A beginner's guide to being a Public Engagement Professional (PEP)

Are you new to the world of Public Engagement? Are you trying to get to grips with the role of a Public Engagement Professional? We hope that this guide will give you a short overview of the role and point you in the direction of other useful resources. 

updated on 22 Nov 2023
4 minutes read

What it means to be a PEP

There are many aspects to a Public Engagement Professional role, and roles are as varied as the types of engagement they support. 

Public engagement contributes to many agendas including Public Engagement with Research, Civic and Social Responsibility, engaged teaching, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, Knowledge Exchange and Impact. Typically, an engaged university will have activities in place to support these agendas, and PEPs and other staff to support them. From developing and delivering engagement themselves, to supporting others to do it, from initiating partnerships to creating the conditions within the sector for engagement to thrive, PEPs help ensure quality engagement thrives.

Am I a PEP?

The Higher Education engagement ecosystem is diverse and those working to facilitate engagement in higher education institutions represent different roles, experiences, forms of engagement, and types of employment Our definition of ‘PEP’ covers anyone with roles relating to public engagement, whether they call themselves a public engagement professional or wear a different title. 

This includes:

  • Those who are new to engagement, as well as those who have some or lots of experience
  • Those who work part-time or full-time, who are employed by a university, or another organisation, or working as a freelancer
  • Those whose role is all about engagement, or those for whom it plays a small part in what they do
  • People working across all forms of engagement including patient engagement, public engagement, outreach, impact, community engagement, civic engagement, evaluation and more.
  • People based in central teams, in faculties or departments.

This guide is specifically focused on PEPs who work within the higher education system, and are relatively new to their role. It seeks to support those working to foster a culture of engagement in their organisation by supporting others to engage with the public and communities. Whilst the NCCPE has a broad understanding of engagement, the guide focuses on PEPs who work primarily in engagement with research, and you'll see that this guide takes you through particular approaches that make sense in a Higher Education context. Much of the thinking and principles that underpin these approaches are very translatable to other contexts, and there is a huge amount of learning to be shared between this sector and those working in allied or aligned practices. So whilst you might not refer to yourself as a 'PEP', we hope you will find some useful content in the resources linked below.

The practicalities of a PEP role

There are lots of practical approaches that PEPs can take to help engagement activities thrive in their organisation. A big part of the role is bringing people together - from creating internal networks of those interested in engagement work, to developing and supporting partnerships that extend the value and reach of their activity. Many PEPs also run training programmes for the researchers they work with, which creates opportunities for researchers to gain the skills they need to deliver specific engagement activities, as well as raising the profile that public engagement, and that it matters to the organisation. 

Finding ways to incentivise and reward public engagement can be a really helpful part of a PEP role. An internal awards scheme recognises good practice, and can also help you build a picture of the public engagement landscape within your institution, whilst also raising awareness of what good public engagement looks like. Another very effective way to incentivise researchers to take part in public engagement activities is with funding. Many PEPs run internal seed-funding schemes that give researchers the opportunity to test out approaches to engagement in a safe and supported way.

Use the resources below to see how other public engagement teams have used some of these approaches to help their work.

Hear from some fellow PEPs!

The NCCPE PEP Network brings together public engagement professionals across the UK working in higher education and research. Our programme of events offers opportunities for peer-support, networking, and to explore the latest thinking on engagement. Membership is currently free, so do sign up! 

Several members of the PEP Network have kindly shared some reflections on their role in the video below, including some top tips on common challenges that PEPs face.