Dr Paul Sapple is the University’s new Public Engagement With Research Manager. As part of a Catalyst Seed Fund from Research Councils UK he is working on developing an institutional public engagement strategy.
“Every winter, members of the global research community, at all levels and across all disciplines, including funders, gather in Bristol to discuss public engagement (PE). Delegates at the ‘Engage’ conference, which is organised by the National Centre for Coordinating Public Engagement (NCCPE), contemplate questions like “What is public engagement?” and “Why does it matter?”
These seemingly simple questions are important; not least because most research in universities is publicly funded, but moreover, intellectual output has the potential to deliver meaningful, positive change far beyond the university campus. Of course, this is even before things like REF, or Pathways to Impact statements are considered.
For me, the most interesting part of this year’s event was a spotlight on what truly engaged research actually looks like. The concept of public engagement is evolving from a model of one-way dissemination, into a more sophisticated, more beneficial offering, where engagement is embedded within research cycle.
Cutting edge research is often complex, and sometimes it can be difficult to understand how non-specialists can play a role. The conference showcased a number of inspirational examples of how dialogue with non-academic groups has enriched real research projects, and in some cases triggered entirely new directions of enquiry. These stories have opened my mind to how fruitful an engaged approach to research can be, for everybody.
The conference also saw the official release of the Wellcome Trust’s ‘Factors affecting public engagement by researchers‘ report; a health check on PE within the UK. The take-home message is that most researchers are engaging with the public. The report also suggests that attitudes towards PE are broadly more positive, compared with the previous comparable study in 2006; most researchers want to engage and can see the value. That said, UK research still has a long way to go, before it could be considered fully engaged.
Enriching lives on a local, national and global scale is a part of our University’s identity and culture – it is part of who we are. Public engagement with research, and other ways of interacting with the outside world, are great tools to help us to serve the needs of our communities. The University already has a strong tradition of being civically engaged, and as a marker of its commitment to the cause, is a signatory of the NCCPE Manifesto for Public Engagement.
In my new capacity as Public Engagement With Research Manager, I am looking to develop meaningful ways to support PE, as an important part of the University’s work. In the New Year, I shall be launching a consultation exercise, to develop a shared vision of what public engagement means for this university and ,crucially, how the University can better support it.
I will be launching a number of activities to showcase and promote our public engagement too, including a grant scheme to help to realise bright ideas, and workshops to provide advice, practical support, and networking space. As a University, we’ll be working closely with NCCPE over the coming year to enhance our offering of PE and how we support it.
I am looking forward to working with the whole University community; researchers, professional services staff, and students, to create our ambitious shared vision for public engagement, and real tools to support it.”
Funded through a partnership between HEFCE, Research Councils UK, and the Wellcome Trust, NCCPE was established to provide strategic support for public engagement within the UK higher education landscape. NCCPE brings together all of the best-practice learning on public engagement into a rich, but coherent and user friendly resource. For more information please visit: http://www.publicengagement.ac.uk
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