Case Study: Supporting informal professional development in public engagement
- Culture Change
What: An internal events programme to support informal development in public engagement and establish a community of public engagement practitioners.
Why: To give staff and students involved in public engagement the chance to collaborate, share learning and resources.
Who: Staff and students with a public engagement element in their role, and people from local public facing institutions (museums, science centres), teachers, and community groups.
Choosing which format to use depends on the purpose of the event and the people who will be attending. At the University of Edinburgh and the Edinburgh Beltane, four main types of event were identified:
1. Raising awareness about Public Engagement
A presentation which defines public engagement and describes the benefits to individuals, their research groups, and the people they engage with, can be an effective way to raise awareness within an institution. It is also a chance to provide information about the support available to staff and students and the opportunities to get involved. An example presentation is available to download in the 'How to Support it' Learning Resources section.
Initially, central events were organised but these were not always well attended. A more successful approach was to request a slot in academic seminar series run by most departments. This had the added benefit of allowing the presenter to tailor the content of the seminar to that specific academic discipline, use related examples and highlight relevant opportunities.
2. Networks within an institution
Networking events are particularly important for larger institutions like Edinburgh which are spread out over a large geographical area. In 2005, volunteers established Threshold, a network for staff involved in public engagement at the University of Edinburgh. This group run quarterly ‘Learning Lunches’ at different locations across the university. A ‘2 Minute Wonder’ session where individuals have 2 minutes to present their public engagement project has been a useful way to find out about new approaches and has led to new collaborations. The events also have time for networking and discussion. Regular meetings are starting to create a sense of community the associated email list is used more often. People seem to feel more confident about asking others for help and advice after they have met face to face a few times.
3. Networks involving external organisations
Networking events involving external organisations have often been more effective at launching new initiatives than making contact through email or phone. It is important that these events have a specific purpose and a clear reason for people to network. One example might be to hold an event which brings together people who have public engagement projects aimed at families with people from a venue where families visit e.g. a local museum or community centre. The event purpose might be pitched within the institution as a chance to find new venues, and pitched to local organisations as a way to boost their event programme.
4. Sharing experience in a particular area of public engagement
People who attend events often work in very different areas of public engagement. The Edinburgh Beltane set up a communication breakfast seminar series, held in the city centre. The breakfast time slot and central location has been popular. Each breakfast session has a clearly defined topic e.g. ‘Engaging with Festivals’ and has a couple of presentations by experienced people then time for discussion. People are invited to suggest topics for future sessions.
- Listening to and acting on feedback is important. Evaluation forms are available at the events and email surveys are often sent out afterwards. The organising team reviews the feedback and this is taken into account when the next session is planned. There are also several opportunities for people to suggest topics or get involved in event planning.
- Timing. The Breakfast sessions have been particularly popular both in terms of the focussed content, and also the time slot. Lunchtime meetings on the other side of town can take up too much time; an early start is often easier to fit in.
- The networking events all have their advantages and disadvantages, but these are not consistent for each person.
- Networking events with a broader scope can be more hit and miss and people who didn’t find it useful are less likely to attend again.
Existing events. Does your institution already run public engagement networking events? It might be more effective to focus on advertising opportunities already available more widely rather than create new ones.
Timing. When in the year is a good or bad time? It is often worth avoiding school holidays, start of the academic term, exam marking, etc Also, what time of day? If people are travelling from across time, the start of end of the day can work well. If they are based in the same area, a catered lunchtime event might be more popular.
People. Who is the event for? How will they find out about the event? What will they get out of it?
Action. Who will follow up on any action points? Will changes be made in response to evaluation and other feedback?
The internal events programme is ongoing.
Example event agendas can be found in the 'How to Support it' Learning Resources section.
Lara Isbel, Edinburgh Beltane - Beacon for Public Engagement
The University of Edinburgh, Darwin Building, The King's Buildings, Edinburgh, EH9 3JR
T: 0131 650 7743