The role of a public engagement professional

Who are public engagement professionals and what do they do?

Public engagement professionals (PEPs) are an increasingly significant and influential cohort of staff in universities.  They bring a real vision and commitment to engagement to an institution. They enable public engagement to flourish, equipping and motivating staff; supporting the development of new initiatives; facilitating partnerships and are key to drawing in funding for engagement.

Typical roles

Usually engagement professionals are recruited by universities to support the engagement work that they are doing. Typically, they will be involved in a variety of roles, including: outreach, departmental public and community engagement, patient involvement, impact, institutional public and community engagement, partnership development, corporate social responsibility, student engagement, engagement with research etc. Some people working in these roles may also have responsibility for other areas of work e.g. research, teaching, communications activity.

Catalyst for change

Whilst in some cases the roles are specifically to deliver public engagement (e.g. as outreach officers) the majority seek to support others to develop their own public engagement work. In addition, engagement professionals will often act as a key catalyst for change within their context, championing the importance of high quality engagement, and encouraging effective support mechanisms to be put in place.

What do public engagement professionals do?

Here are some of the key activities that engagement professionals may do as part of their role, and where you can get help to develop these areas of work.

Develop and/or deliver a strategic approach to public engagement

  • Review current strategy to explore what is working well and less well. Consider if and when it needs to be reviewed, and the process needed to do this
  • Engage with staff and students to develop a shared understanding of the range, diversity and value of public (and patient) engagement activities

Support researchers                                                       

  • Review and support skills development, through workshops, training, development opportunities and networking / learning activities
  • Provide easy ways for staff to get involved e.g. through established engagement platforms such as café scientifique, festivals
  • Equip researchers to evaluate their engagement work

Partnership development  

  • Maximise links within existing partners, and develop new partnerships to support mutually beneficial outcomes e.g. community groups, charities, museums, festivals, local councils etc

Access external funding

  • Support researchers to create and cost their public engagement plans for research grant proposals
  • Identify potential funding opportunities and develop applications for external grant funding in order to support public engagement activities

Evaluate your impact

  • Develop effective mechanisms to evaluate the work you are doing, both to reflect on your work but also to assess its value.

Build a network

  • Create internal networks to share learning, support staff to engage with the public, and recognize quality
  • Engage with networks outside of the organization to enhance development of your work

Communicate and share

  • Use internal and external channels to promote the value of the engagement work you have supported, and celebrate the staff and partners involved
  • Be visible within the organization, ensuring that people are aware of the support you offer, and the success of engagement work being undertaken

Champion change

  • Act as a catalyst for change within your organisation

Help from the NCCPE

The NCCPE seek to support public engagement professionals in a range of ways. We offer professional development opportunities, including the Engage Academy. We are establishing an engagement professionals network, with a range of events and activities to bring members together, to share learning, and inspire change. We are committed to seeing the skills and attributes needed to do these roles well recognised and are working to develop an attributes framework that outlines key competencies and skills needed to do these roles well. We are also seeking to establish progression pathways for public engagement professionals.

If you think your institution or department would benefit from a public engagement professional get in contact, and we can support you in developing your approach.