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Where? Edinburgh and Highlands and Islands

What? Training and development working group and specific roles to support learning about public engagement. Developing an interactive website and social media presence about public engagement. Creating an online database of training opportunities

When? 2008-2012

Why? Supporting public engagement requires experienced staff and other resources. 

Who? Staff who coordinate public engagement information, or who are involved in training and development.


“If you put good people in bad systems you get bad results. You have to water the flowers you want to grow.”  Stephen R. Covey

Networks, events programmes, training opportunities and formal professional development in public engagement all support learning about public engagement but delivering these initiatives requires experienced staff and other resources.

The Edinburgh Beltane Beacon’s key investments have been creating ‘Training & Development Coordinator’ and ‘Communications and Events Officer’ roles, a central website and online database of training opportunities. The Beacon has also benefited from people who voluntarily participate in the four Working Groups. Each group meets approximately six times per year and has a specific remit: training and development, reward and recognition, communication and events, or evaluation.

This case study describes these approaches in more detail, the issues encountered and the direction of future development.

Project description

1. Working groups and specific roles

The Edinburgh Beltane established a Training and Development Working Group in 2008 to consider how to improve the provision of public engagement training across the partnership. The group members had a range of backgrounds including HR, postgraduate skills development and public engagement, which was particularly useful when developing strategies which cut across all these areas. However, everyone in the group had limited time and it was hard to implement the strategies developed. In 2009, the Edinburgh Beltane created the post of ‘training & development coordinator’ to focus on this area and things have progressed much more rapidly as a result.

The Beltane also appointed a Communications and Events Officer to follow up proposals in the communications and events working group. This involves maintaining the website, coordinating events and supporting networks. These roles, in addition to the website and social media have given the Beltane a much wider reach and helped to establish more initiatives.

2. Interactive website and social media

The Edinburgh Beltane created a central website of upcoming public engagement events, news, projects, resources, training and contacts. A focus group of different users was involved in the development process. This was incredibly useful as it meant the designers had a much better idea about how the website would be used by different people.

Raising awareness of the website is challenging, and it took a year for most public engagement people to realise the website was there. To raise awareness, the Edinburgh Beltane use established networks and email lists. They also have active profiles on various social networking sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.

3. Database of training and development opportunities

The Edinburgh Beltane developed a skills framework for public engagement. They then commissioned an online content management system to collate information about the training and development opportunities available that developed those skills. Individual staff and students can log in to create a personal schedule of training courses to attend and record their progress. Training providers also receive a log-in so they can edit course information quickly and easily. There is a dedicated coordinator to maintain the database which was launched in the 2010–2011 academic year.

Success factors

  • The working groups have been extremely useful. Their input has resulted in strategies that link to established procedures within the institution, making it easier for people to implement them. One example is the training database. During the development phase, training group members flagged concerns about the time implications if administrative staff had to update course details in two systems. Exploring training provider’s administrative procedures at different institutions lead to a system that requires minimal effort to maintain and is straightforward for institutions to adopt
  • The training providers and senior managers have been very supportive of attempts to coordinate public engagement training and development opportunities and see the benefit for their institution
  • The website receives an increasing number of regular visitors and the number of Twitter followers is also increasing. People are responsible for maintaining the website and social media profiles which has helped to keep the content fresh

Lessons learned

Managing expectations: Building effective working groups and developing online resources takes time. The Edinburgh Beltane evaluation in the first year showed that some people were disappointed with the progress made and had expected more things to be happening. A huge amount of work was going on to establish partnerships, build websites and plan databases but this was often ‘behind the scenes’. In the second year, the results of this work became more visible and the feedback was much more encouraging.

People:  Having enough staff members and volunteers in place to implement new strategies and support current initiatives is important to keep momentum.

Website:  Involve users in the development stage of the website. Consider how people can contribute and add to the website and investigate social media.

Be realistic about what you can create yourself – and make use of other people’s resources rather than reinvent your own. A wide variety of resources and case studies are available in our how to do it section.

Online training database: Involve training providers from the beginning. Useful questions to explore at the beginning include: Is there a need for this in the institution? What are the current administrative and financial systems and how could these be integrated (or not) into a central database? Who is responsible for adding or editing information?

Next steps

The Training database was launched in 2010. There has been more support from training providers and university managers than expected but it remains to be seen how useful it will be for staff and students.

The database has been designed so it can either be used as an ‘empty shell’ by other institutions, or be expanded to include courses from other institutions. This might be useful in Scotland which has a number of cross institution arrangements in place.

A big challenge is how to sustain systems that work well after the Beltane funding ends.

Key partners

The Edinburgh Beltane Higher Education Institution partners are:


Information about the Edinburgh Beltane training database, job descriptions and online resources can be found in the Planning for Change 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