Making sense of the policy context for public engagement can helpfully be introduced by re-visiting the notion of the ivory tower – a source of perennial debate. How can universities best maintain a productive connection with the public – while retaining sufficient critical 'distance' so sustain long-term academic enquiry?
The last ten years have seen a series of attempts by policy makers to encourage universities to re-think and re-focus how they engage with wider society. Public engagement sits at the heart of these policy developments, and we have listed some of the key milestones below.
- The Beacons for Public Engagement
- The Beacons project was established in 2008:
"This initiative aims to create a culture within UK Higher Education where public engagement is formalised and embedded as a valued and recognised activity for staff at all levels, and for students."
Six pilot projects were funded for a four year period to attempt to galvanise lasting cultural change. The NCCPE was established as part of this project.
- Concordat for Engaging the Public with Research
- Led by Research Councils UK (RCUK) and developed by research funders the 2010 Concordat spelt out four expectations of everyone they fund:
~ UK research organisations have a strategic commitment to public engagement
~ Researchers are recognised and valued for their involvement with public engagement activities
~ Researchers are enabled to participate in public engagement activities through appropriate training, support and opportunities
~ The signatories and supporters will undertake regular reviews of their and the wider research sector's progress in fostering public engagement across the UK
- The Researcher Development Framework
- Developed in 2011, the Research Councils triggered an extensive consultation on researcher skills which resulted in the launch of the Researcher Development Framework. It articulates four domains in which researchers should be proficient, including 'Engagement, Influence and Impact': this domain emphasised skills in engagement and collaboration 'the knowledge and skills to work with others and ensure the wider impact of research'.
- The so-called 'impact agenda' resulted in a new set of incentives and accountability measures for research funding, which explicitly incentivised research that delivered impact ‘beyond academia’. Public engagement is explicitly encouraged as a 'route to impact' and as a result, is increasingly entering mainstream research practice.