What is public engagement?
Public engagement by Higher Education Institutions embraces many different types of activity and demands a wide range of skills in communication and project management. Examples of engagement activity at an operational level can be described using this simple typology:
One way: communicating knowledge and enriching cultural life e.g. public lectures, media work, writing for the non-specialist, exhibitions,show-casing academic know-how, pro-bono schemes, communicating research to the public, acting as the lead for major festival themes, contributing to the organisation and delivery of engagement activities.
Two way: providing a service and being in dialogue with the public and communities e.g. volunteering, promoting and employing user involvement in research and the co-production of research, forums, focus groups, seminars and debates that involve the public, pro-bono schemes, drama outreach, museum education, continuing education and lifelong learning, contributing to the organisation and delivery of engagement activities.
Three way: being in dialogue with the public and policy-makers e.g. governmental committees involving the academic as the ‘expert', such as an expert panel, government led public consultation and task forces, and active membership of professional bodies.
The Concordat for Engaging the Public with Research – this provides a single, unambiguous statement of the expectations and responsibilities of research funders in the UK. It is binding upon all research organisations and is a condition of research council funding. The Concordat has four key principles, one of which is that researchers are enabled to participate in public engagement activities through appropriate training, support and opportunities. Another is that researchers are recognised and valued for their involvement in public engagement activities.
For the Concordat see RCUK - http://www.rcuk.ac.uk/per/Pages/Concordat.aspx
Pathways to Impact – engaging the public with research can improve the quality of the research and its impact and raise the researcher's profile. Project-specific engagement activities, which are relevant and appropriate to the proposed research, are valid to include as ways of creating potential impact. See RCUK -http://www.rcuk.ac.uk/kei/impacts/Pages/home.aspx
See the NCCPE for guidance and top tips on engagement and pathways to impact - http://www.publicengagement.ac.uk/how/guides/pe-and-pathways-impact
The Research Excellence Framework - the REF assesses the quality of research and includes an aspect which assesses research impact (currently 20% of the total assessment). Impact can be realised and assessed through engagement activity and its evaluation where appropriate. For the purposes of the REF, engagement is an activity, led by research staff, which creates interaction between members of the public and the research process or outputs, with the goal of generating some kind of benefit or impact. The engagement and impact can occur before, during or after the research See UEA's Research & Innovation Services for further information about the REF and UEA's REF submission.
The Public Engagement Manifesto - UEA's Vice-Chancellor was one of the first signatories to this national Manifesto. The Manifesto incorporates a number of key commitments to action e.g. to assess current support for engagement and address areas of improvement, work with students to develop a student volunteering pledge and develop a UEA community engagement strategy in consultation with community partners. Engagement enhances teaching, the student experience and employability as well as research. Other signatories include UCL, the Universities of Manchester, Nottingham, Edinburgh and Bristol, and Imperial College London. See NCCPE – http://www.publicengagement.ac.uk/why-does-it-matter/manifesto
Reward & Recognition
Excellence in engagement is formally recognised by the University in the academic promotions scheme (the ‘Green Book') and is publicly celebrated via the annual Engagement Awards that are presented at an awards reception hosted by the Vice-Chancellor. Engagement is recognised in national schemes and is a standard requirement of much research funding.
From 2008 to 2012 UEA hosted CUE East, a national Beacon for Public Engagement which built upon good practice at UEA and the Norwich Research Park whilst helping staff and students to connect with communities.
As a culture change programme, CUE East made significant progress and helped to shape the next phase of the engagement with research agenda at UEA. Individual engagement practitioners who had been active long before the Beacon began no longer had to work ‘below the radar', as their contribution became increasingly recognised and rewarded. CUE East (steered by UEA's senior academics and community partners), enabled UEA to provide a dedicated support service for staff and students with associated individual awards for excellence and a professional development programme which effectively ‘raised the game' for engagement in all disciplines. In July 2012 UEA established a permanent Community University Engagement Office, supporting a dedicated Engagement Executive and refreshed Corporate Plan. See more CUE East Publications and Reports here