Developing networks within and across your institution is one way to increase visibility of public engagement support at your institution. Internal networks can also be useful for connecting staff who are already active in public engagement enabling peer-to-peer support and brokering of collaborations.
You may want to set up an institutional or faculty public engagement network, bringing people together periodically to share their experiences of engagement, showcase new opportunities, or network with others.
For example, the University of Dundee’s PE Network includes staff or students who have direct roles in delivering, advising or supporting public and community engagement activity across the university. It meets every 6-8 weeks. The Network aims to
- Develop a community, by encouraging all voices to contribute in an informal environment.
- Find out how we can help each other, to foster collaboration and cross-curricular working.
- Share knowledge and learning (even when things don't go to plan!) to enhance the quality of our engagement activity.
Why networks and networking matter
A key challenge for engagement professionals is developing strong alliances across the organisation, to get support for your work, and to ensure it has traction. One of the key things engagement professionals say helps in such networking is ‘generosity’.
Engagement professionals need to know a lot about how their institution works, and typically operate across all faculties, estates, and professional services departments, which often means that they are plugged into many other networks, and contribute to them. As a result, you will have really useful knowledge; being generous with this can help establish relationships with others, and raise awareness of what you do. Engagement professionals are usually seen as ‘go to’ people, with fantastic connections, and the ability to make things happen.
Public engagement professionals can sometimes feel quite isolated. Whilst some universities have small teams of public engagement professionals championing engagement, many universities have one person responsible for engagement; or have distributed models where the roles sit in different departments or faculties. Whatever your situation, it helps to find peers to support you in your work, to share ideas and learning, and enhance your skills.
The NCCPE's Public Engagement Professionals Network (or PEP Network) launched in 2018, aiming to support public engagement professionals across UK higher education institutions to access CPD, peer support and the latest thinking and expertise on engagement.
In addition, we offer specific networks to connect people together:
- Engage Academy for engagement professionals, which provides CPD, and an opportunity to engage with a range of other participants. Academy alumni have reflected that this is ‘a perfect way to establish a peer support group’.
- Engage Researchers' Academy for researchers with a passion for engagement, which supports participants to develop the skills and experience to work with others and improve the impact and relevance of their research.
- Public Engagement Network, a Jiscmail list for anyone interested in public engagement involving research organisations
You can find out more about connecting with these groups here.
Increasingly there are regional networks of public engagement professionals, which offer support and learning opportunities:
- If you are based in London, and your role involves culture change, then you could join the London PE Network.
- Colleagues in Scotland have developed a new Scottish network, ScotPEN, to connect and support people working in engagement professional roles.
- The Southern Consortium for Public Engagement is a lively network of cross-industry public engagement professionals in south central England. Representatives come from higher education institutions, the third sector, and industry, and all share a desire to empower and inspire people regardless of backgrounds. Contact Ben Littlefield to get involved.
If you run a network, let us know and we will be pleased to advertise it here.
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