It is tempting to put all your energy into developing plans and putting support processes in place – but people need to be front of mind too. After all, the best systems, plans and processes will be ineffective if your staff, students and publics feel disengaged.
So what have we at the NCCPE learned about how to involve people in the process of change?
Inviting staff to take part in a benchmarking survey, using the EDGE tool, can provide you with a really good snapshot of how they are making sense of public engagement and how they feel about the support on offer. Making sure you are working in a very open and transparent way is also crucial – for instance, if you are developing a new public engagememt strategy or a new training offer, then you should be building in lots of ‘listening’, consultation and piloting to make sure that what you are doing is informed by what people actually think will work. It is also important to keep your eye on the ‘bigger picture’ – how staff across the sector are feeling about public engagement.
We can point you to a variety of helpful resources:
- We have developed a benchmarking tool that you can adapt to survey your staff and students. Get in touch if you would like to know more.
- The 2015 report ‘Factors Affecting Public Engagement by Researchers’ provides an excellent ‘state of the nation’ review of how researchers are experiencing support for public engagement in their institutions.
- Our Public Engagement Professionals section offers advice on how to build and support networks, and how to support researchers who are new to public engagement.
The potential of engaging students in engagement is enormous – they tend to be highly motivated to get involved, creative and committed in their approach, and the benefits they experience, in terms of their own development and skills, can be really significant. Many partner organisations also really want the chance to engage with students and to involve them in their work.
Funders now expect to see really intelligent approaches to involving postgraduates and post docs in sustained and well supported programmes of activity, and for this to be integral to their studies. Many universities are also seeking to provide opportunities for undergraduates to encounter public engagement as a part of their studies. And there is a long tradition of offering students opportunities to volunteer outside the curriculum.
- Our mini-EDGE tool on ‘students’ offers practical tips about where to focus attention to improve your support for students
- Take a look at guide to working with students, which offers lots of practical tips
- We also have a guide to working with student volunteers
- We published a literature review ‘Embedding community engagement in the curriculum’ in 2011 which provides a useful overview of the field
- We also published a framework for the assessment of student learning from public engagement in 2011
One of the most exciting recent developments in university public engagement has been a much more concerted focus on how to better involve and engage the public – moving from piecemeal engagements to more sustained and mutually beneficial relationships. This make take the form of research teams establishing advisory groups; improving access points to the university; developing more strategic relationships with key partner organisations (like schools or museums); or developing high quality ‘platforms’ like sustained community programmes or regular events which deepen people’s relationship with the university. We can point you to various resources that can help:
- Our mini-EDGE tool focused on ‘the public’ offers practical tips about where to focus attention to improve your support
- Our pages on partnership working provide lots of practical hints and tips on how to build more effective partnerships to engage the public
- The UK Community Partner Network has developed useful resources for community organisations who want to build better links to universities, including a ‘getting started’ guide, advice on how to contact academics and a list of potential challenges you might encounter
How we can help
The NCCPE is here to help you on your journey to embed support for public engagement. We have a host of other resources that can help, built on the experiences of our partners working at the ‘coal face’, developing approaches that are tried and tested. We are keen to talk to you about what your plans are, where you’re stuck and where we might be able to help. Do please contact us if you would like to arrange a conversation.