If you want to develop high quality engagement it is important to think about purpose.

What are you hoping to achieve? This, alongside consideration of the people you are hoping to engage with, will really shape the engagement work that you choose to do.

Purpose come in all shapes and sizes, and one size does not fit all. In their review of case studies of engagement, Duncan and Manners (forthcoming) describe six main categories of purpose for public engagement with higher education.  

Sharing what we do (inspiring, informing)

This is one of the most common purposes, where the goal is to inspire or inform people about your work. Building understanding and stimulating curiosity is a vital part of the engagement landscape.   

Responding (to societal needs / requests)

Much of the public engagement work done by universities is driven by the university, yet we know that there are many organisations and individuals keen to work with universities, who have their own ideas about the things they would like to participate in and the issues or topics that they would like to address.  Identifying and responding to such requests can be an important motivator for engagement.     

Creating knowledge together / Doing research together (collaborating, innovating)

We include collaborative research within our definition of public engagement. The purpose here is to work together on research projects, to create knowledge collaboratively. This could be co-production (where you engage people throughout the process, from setting the research questions to sharing the results) or collaborative engagement, where you involve people in certain parts of the research programme e.g. citizen science.

Applying knowledge together (collaborating, innovating)

Another key purpose for engagement is to seek to apply knowledge together. Often researchers are keen to make a difference with their research, and need to work in partnership with others to explore how this can happen.  

Learning from others (consulting) 

A vital purpose engagement can serve is to inform and educate you – to help you put yourself in other’s shoes, to see the world through their eyes, and to explore how they make sense of the world and the values that guide them.  Consultation and dialogue are key ways to realise this. 

Changing attitudes / behaviour  

Some engagement seeks to support people to make decisions in their lives. The purpose is to influence their attitudes or behaviour. This is a controversial purpose, with some researchers saying that we should not seek to change other people, but just offer them the research to enable them to make up their own minds.