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We help universities engage with the public

Working groups

We have established four working groups to make progress against our priorities. This section contains further details and how to get involved.


How can we make evaluation work harder to generate useful insight and evidence that really makes a difference?

The National Forum for Public Engagement with STEM commissioned a scoping study which aimed to explore current and potential future evaluation practice within the UK’s National Forum for Public Engagement in STEM, and the wider UK STEM PE community. In response to the findings from this report, a number of challenges were identified:

  • How do you increase evaluation capacity amongst practitioners?
  • What interventions (i.e. training, funding, peer to peer etc.) would be best suited to raise the standard of evaluation across the sector?
  • How could evaluative findings be used more strategically by organisations and funders?
  • How do we alleviate the pressure between evaluation to satisfy funders vs. evaluation that supports reflective practice?
  • How could/do funders signal that evaluation is an important tool when delivering effective engagement?

To address these questions a working group was formed. The group has agreed that it should contribute to a future where:

  • Evaluation is valued, recognised, embedded and utilised to inform future practice
  • There was an increase in knowledge of appropriate methodologies and their application across the sector & the confidence to implement
  • There would be fewer evaluations but better quality approaches
  • There would be a more collective evaluation endeavour across all STEM PE

Key contact: Sophie Duncan (

Engaging underserved audiences

The case for widening the audiences engaged in science is compelling. Numerous reports and critiques have identified that – despite considerable effort – many groups are currently ‘under-served’ by public engagement. Addressing this problem was one of the founding objectives for the National Forum for Public Engagement with STEM.

Professor Louise Archer was invited to present on Science Capital, and pose some challenging questions to the Forum:

  • Is our individual and collective effort reinforcing rather than transforming underlying inequalities?
  • How can we ensure that Public Engagement is not simply espousing social justice goals for widening participation in science, whilst insufficiently addressing the mechanisms which reproduce social inequality?
  • Are we inviting people to aspire to participate in a sector that they are structurally unable to fully access?

The working group is taking forward the principles of Science Capital in a number of ways:

  • Embedding Science Capital across the activity of the Forum
  • Developing frameworks to support practitioners, funders and policy makers in taking a Science Capital approach
  • Scoping a UK Science Capital Heat Map in 2017/18 to inform future investment priorities (representing areas of high and low science capital).

Key contact: Ian Duffy (

Emerging Ares of Science and Technology

In April 2015, an informal roundtable on public engagement chaired by Sir Mark Walport identified a small number of emerging areas of science and technology that are likely to require broad and sustained debate over the next decade. The group identified significant opportunity to enhance the coordination between key players in the STEM/PE landscape, concluding that:  The public engagement and risk capability landscapes are fragmented, with many players. It is neither possible nor desirable to impose structure on them, but greater coordination between players, and more focus on the major future themes, were likely to deliver greater impact and benefit.

In response, the Wellcome Trust and the Royal Society are leading two working groups: (i) Genomics and Gene Editing and (ii) Machine Learning.

Genomics and Gene Editing

Specific gaps in engagement activity have been identified. These include; the lack of a commonly understood language to describe the science; a need for further engagement looking at the ethical and social issues around the use, privacy and implications of personal data; the need for engagement tackling controversial topics such as the ethics and acceptability of genome editing of the human germ line; and the need for more creative forms of engagement that can reach a larger and more diverse public with genomics.

Wellcome Trust have commissioned the NCCPE to proposal to research, coordinate and facilitate the working group. Further updates will follow.

Key contact: David Owen (

Machine Learning

The Royal Society recently completed a major policy project on Machine Learning aiming to increase awareness amongst policy makers, the research community, the public and industry, to raise the level of public debate, identify scientific challenges and explore how the developments might bring social and economic benefits to the UK.

For further information:

Key contact: Tracey Hughes, Head of Marketing and Public Engagement (

Supporting the Professionalisation of Public Engagement

South West Pilot

Following the National Networking Event, The Forum was approached by three active members of the STEM Community with a proposal to look at professionalising Public Engagement, using the South West as a pilot area.

The project sets out to explore:

  • the sector’s understanding of the term ‘professionalising the sector’
  • organisational implications of how the sector could be professionalised
  • the current providers, their areas of work, and their audiences
  • the key constraints and limitations in the programmes they offer
  • areas where informal science learning providers would find it valuable to collaborate
  • ways in which people from outside the sector could be engaged
  • what might be key goals for the provision of a more effective and integrated programme

This work complements other work in progress reviewing professionalising Public Engagement, which includes:

  • RCUK and Wellcome: working with a range of professional bodies to explore the opportunities to enhance professionalisation for researchers and professional services staff involved in public engagement, building on the findings from the Factors Affecting Survey and the State of Play report.
  • NCCPE: working with the University of Manchester, to pilot the development of quality standards for university public engagement.

Further updates will follow.

Key contact: Helen Featherstone (