Table of contents
Public engagement roles tend to fall into two broad types; those who work to bring about change, building capacity and capability for public engagement in others (sometimes referred to as ‘change agents’) - and those who deliver public engagement activity either in collaboration with or on behalf of others. Many roles are a combination of these types, and there can be a wide variety of job titles and roles in different institutions, with both researchers and professional services staff taking on public engagement responsibilities. Roles will also have different levels of seniority and influence to make change.
The diagram below attempts to map typical roles on two axes: their relative seniority, and the extent to which they focus on ‘doing’ public engagement or ‘supporting’ culture change. This might help you work out the balance you need in your team:
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Ideally, you will want a balance of staff across the different quadrants. We outline some of the considerations you might want to bear in mind below.
Top left: Does PE/ High Seniority
Someone in this area might be a professor or senior academic who is not responsible for PE institutionally, but does a lot of PE themselves. These people are very useful allies and can act as good examples for others. This group may also include researchers with specialist public engagement skills, for instance in co-production or participatory research. They may be at any seniority level but their methods and approaches can challenge conventional ways of conducting research, have significant impact with their peers, and pave the way for changes in their institutions too.
Top right: Change Agent/ High Seniority
Example roles with high seniority and responsibility for culture change are: Head of Public Engagement and/or Academic Public Engagement Champion. ‘Champion’ may be an explicit role (e.g. Pro-Vice-Chancellor Engagement) or the responsibility for engagement culture change may be an part of an existing role (such as Pro-Vice-Chancellor Research)
Bottom right: Change Agent/ Low Seniority
Roles tasked with culture change which do not have a corresponding level of seniority can be extremely challenging if not properly supported. It is important that people in these roles have senior managers or champions who have influence so they can do their job effectively. Low seniority does not mean low importance! These highly skilled roles tend to be the eyes and ears on the ground, brokering relationships and significantly increasing capacity to support PE amongst researchers.
Bottom left: Does PE/ Low Seniority
These roles are very important to the public engagement eco-system and might include outreach officers, freelancers and partners who work with researchers to produce engagement activity. These are highly skilled roles which bring with them a different perspective and often creative solutions for creating quality public engagement.
Where does your role (or the role you are wanting to create) sit? Do you need a change agent or someone who is good at doing public engagement? If you need a change agent, will they have an appropriate level of authority to make change themselves or significant support from other senior managers? Answering these questions will help you decide which types of knowledge, attributes and skills will be necessary for the role you are creating.