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The Crescent Network - Fostering PE through networks

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Overview

Who: General publics – pubs, cafes, community venues

What: An informal forum for early career researchers to share their research with the public

Why: As public engagement becomes a valued part of what a researcher does, the network allows early career researchers to get started and build a PE track record whilst meeting peers in an informal environment e.g. pub, cafe

Where: University of Salford and venues around Greater Manchester

When: Monthly

Project description

The Crescent Network (CN) was launched in early 2010 because the research funding landscape is changing, and there is an increasing emphasis on publicly funded researchers to demonstrate both the impact and public benefit of their research activity. Embarking on a career in public engagement (PE) is a daunting task for most early career researchers. The rationale behind the network is that the researchers’ tentative steps are taken in a non-threatening environment, following which they learn from the experience as well as build their confidence and enthusiasm for further public engagement activities.

Researchers give an informal 30 minute talk on their research themes and its relevance and likely benefits to society. The audience then feedback thoughts and impressions via 3/4 questions printed on beer mats at the venue.

The network has two components: a network of suitable venues (e.g. community halls and pubs with back rooms) and a Ning website to allow researchers to register themselves and their research area. This is also actively promoted via other social media channels such as twitter, facebook and the Manchester Beacon for public engagement website.

The other aim/benefit of the Ning website is that it acts as a ‘one stop shop’ whereby those seeking to create a PE portfolio can obtain relevant information on matters such as: funding opportunities, public engagement training and any other useful resources.

The network is complemented by a series of monthly lunches at which invited speakers talk about specific aspects of public engagement.

The University of Salford recently unveiled its strategic plan 2010- 2017 with 6 specific goals around 6 themes. Goal 3 is particularly relevant as its focus is “transforming engagement”.

Purpose

The objective was to develop a public engagement network to:

  • support and encourage early career researchers to undertake public engagement
  • develop greater awareness within the university infrastructure of the need to support PE activity
  • increase PE skills amongst network members

Results and outcomes

94 members; 15 PE events; 5 training events; 10 network lunches; 1 internal publication showcasing PE activity; 1 website.

The Crsecent Network 

The Crescent Network

What worked well

“This is what engagement really is!! Being there with people. Doing stuff with them. Offering them a different angle on how things can be done!” University of Salford Member of Staff

“Thankyou, I have now joined the Crescent Network, and would be interested in any other public engagement activities coming up in the near future. I think/hope you’re going to be able to assist me as I do want public engagement, I just don’t always know how or when I can do it well!” PhD student

The Crescent Network has required more work than initially anticipated to set up and run, it is a credit to the passion and enthusiasm of its staff and growing support internally, both from the Manchester Beacon and as a result of strategic changes in the institution. This has led to:

  • Membership approaching 100 researchers
  • Members from other universities e.g. University of Manchester and MMU
  • Strong links and collaborations with 2 other PE networks (Bright Club & Ragged University)
  • Our target was 20 events but we achieved 15 – however – we collaborated in additional events put on by other networks
  • Promotion of the network at key postgraduate events e.g. Vitae NW conference
  • Lots of interest and support from outside the University of Salford including other universities and other networks
  • Increasing national interest

What didn't work well

The key lessons that were learnt from this project are: 

An interim evaluation was carried out in July to September 2010 from which we learned:

  • A fine balance must be struck between too much and insufficient contact with our members.
  • Establishing specific needs is an effective way of providing practical support.
  • Public engagement is not sufficiently high on the agenda of many early career researchers
  • Highlighting the work of successfully engaged researchers is a useful tool for promoting PE
  • Creating solutions to the problem of supporting researchers to do PE is better than highlighting problems
  • A smaller team supported by a steering group can work better when trying something new
  • Networks cooperate with other networks, providing new opportunities for our members
  • Members prefer the informal setting to undertake PE – evening events were more popular than lunchtime networking lunches

Top Tips

  1. Be more realistic in terms of expectations – it takes time to set up initially
  2. Seek additional support to publicise and showcase the network
  3. Allow more time to plan and organise between events
  4. Actively encourage more members to take a lead in organising events

Next steps

  • Apply for more funding to support different disciplines (science & engineering) and cross-disciplinary events.
  • Gain wider institutional support to promote the network internally as well as externally
  • Foster cross fertilisation of networks and encourage & support members to put on their own events
  • Widen membership to include all students, the wider research community
  • Consider adopting a business engagement role

Resources required

  • Sign posting of opportunities including funding
  • Archive of PE talks
  • Peer to peer training
  • Social Media network for sharing information

Contact

Name: Chris Guthrie

Name of organisation: University of Salford

Email: c.guthrie@salford.ac.uk

Telephone: 07811 230395