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Barriers to researchers engaging

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Freshwater research

In our recent website poll, we asked 'What is the biggest barrier to individual researchers engaging with the public?'. Here, NCCPE's Becky discusses the results.

As a fresh faced PhD student some ten years ago, public engagement wasn’t really a term that featured in my daily life as a researcher. And if you’d asked me why not, I probably would have cited time pressures and the increasing terror of the prospect of ‘Getting Published’ as the major reasons. And it seems this was a feeling shared with many researchers at the time. The 2006 publication Factors Affecting Science Communication cited ‘the need to spend more time on research’ as the mostly likely reason for science and engineering researchers not to engage.

So, ten years on and considerably more enlightened, I was really interested to explore what the current researcher population considered to be their biggest barrier to engaging. In our recent web poll of 299 people we found that almost a third of people cited ‘lack of knowledge to do it well’ as the main barrier to engagement.

 Barriers pie chart

Is this great news? Does this mean we’ve shifted in culture from having little time for engagement, to one where we appreciate the importance of it, but just aren’t quite sure how to do it? It would certainly seem it is better regarded, with only 8% of people in our poll citing ‘lack of regard of peers’ as a barrier, compared to 20% of people in the 2006 survey who thought engagement was perceived as a barrier to career progression by their peers.

And if it is that a third of researchers are raring to go but lack the knowledge to do it, then we really want to help arm you with the tools you need. The NCCPE will be running the following courses this year, and we really hope you can join us:

  • 1st April: Beginners' guide to public engagement
  • 16th April: Beginners' guide to evaluation
  • 11th June: Beginners' guide to evaluation
  • 30th June: Research in context
  • 14th July: Beginners' guide to public engagement
  • 7th October: Evaluation masterclass
  • 28th October: Evaluation masterclass

You can find full details of all our training courses in our Continued Professional Development & training section.

Whilst the results from our poll are interesting, we also appreciate that they only represent a small subset of the researcher community that are visiting our website as they already have an interest in public engagement. What will be interesting is finding out whether the feelings of the researcher community at large have altered since 2006, and we look forward to seeing the results of the next ‘Factors Affecting Science Communication’ which is due to be published later this year.

What do you think? Is lack of training the main barrier to engaging the public with your research? Or are other pressures greater? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.

Comments

Very nice to see these data! One thought, in addition to the "lack of knowledge to do it well", is whether "lack of reward / recognition" and "pressure to publish" are in some ways linked / similar.

For example, if you feel that PE doesn't get rewards or recognition to help career advancement, but publishing academic papers does, then you might choose to prioritise publishing academic papers as an activity. But in that sense, those two categories are perhaps reflecting the same pressure.

In that case, the overall "cultural" problem of PE not necessarily being "recognised" in academic appointment & promotion considerations etc, unlike academic papers, is an overall 38% - perhaps therefore outstripping lack of training as a barrier?

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