Author: Lynsey Cross, Swansea University & HDR UK Public Engagement Officer for Wales and Northern Ireland
In our life time we have encountered many infamous double acts including; Ant and Dec, Laurel and Hardy, Thelma and Louise, now there is a new double act which is proving to be shaping the academic world; public engagement and research.
Public engagement in data intensive research can be described in many ways, but the explanation which I found most relevant was given by Dan Taylor of WEISS;
“Public engagement is a two way process, involving interacting and listening to the public to debate and shape research with mutual benefit.”
Over my career I have been asked countless times by highly skilled, admirable academics; why is public engagement necessary for my research? My response consists of one question; why do you do research? And together we always come to the same conclusion; public benefit. HDR UK’s research is done for public benefit with the objective of obtaining a better understanding of human disease and in due course; treating, curing, and preventing these conditions. For this reason it is essential for the public to be involved in co-producing impactful research.
Each member of the HDR UK research community has a powerful resource up their sleeves; open access to specialist public engagement support. No matter what your obstacles, or how daunted you feel, there are specialists across HDR UK and further afield that can help make public engagement work for all.
To help you start thinking about your own public engagement journey, I have drawn together my top 5 tips on how to make engagement work for you and your research project:
- Break the traditional researcher mould, become a hybrid researcher
Have you ever heard the saying; ‘two heads are better than one?’ You are a skilled researcher who is carrying out research that aims to inform others. Work with those ‘others’ to co-produce projects and be creative with your methods. Members of the public and other professionals can bring a different view point, and informed advice, which could help enhance the relevance and potential impact of your research.
- Don’t let REF bamboozle you
Every academic in higher education has probably had multiple dreams about REF. Being able to demonstrate REFable engagement is of course important, but it must be remembered REF asks you to demonstrate the best parts of your research, and if you are conducting high quality effective co-produced research, producing a REF submission will be a lot easier.
- Creative license
Surveys and questionnaires can be useful tools to help find out a person’s opinion, but they are tick box exercises – it’s time to get innovative. To ensure a project is truly reflective of public need, it is essential that members of the public be actively involved in the whole life cycle and to achieve this you will need to unleash your creative side. Public engagement is not a standalone ‘activity’, it is an essential part of developing and delivering impactful research.
- Research can happen anywhere
When working with members of the public, a university office is not always the most accessible or relevant of locations, so take your research on the road! Unless conducting sterile laboratory work, you can be mobile and go and work with your project partners in a suitable setting, and realise the value of the knowledge and skills of others including; artists, musicians, and so many others.
- You are not alone!
You are surrounded by skilled, experienced, individuals who are ready and waiting to help you. HDR UK has a newly established Public Advisory Board, it’s setting up a public engagement network and your institution will have specialist support. If you like social media, Twitter has an ever growing community of scientists who are interested in engagement and you can get involved in the conversation; #engagedacademics. And finally, funding bodies are eager for to develop innovative engagement pathways, so look up their offer excellent guidance (and funding!)