University of Birmingham

Why we've signed the Manifesto

"Innovation and engagement are at the heart of everything we do in Birmingham. We are committed to engaging with a wide variety of publics to improve the design and delivery of research and learning, exciting people about knowledge and discovery, and ensuring that our work makes an impact. We are enormously proud to have been awarded a Silver Engage Watermark and see it as a great opportunity to further develop our commitment and excellence in public engagement."

Professor David Eastwood, Vice Chancellor, University of Birmingham

Our approach to public engagement

We have an Institutional commitment to carrying out Research That Matters as part of our Strategic Framework 2026. Therefore making a difference to society by seeking to understand and address public need and benefit is at the heart of everything we do. We use a wide variety of means to connect this top-level strategy with our academic and professional staff and students in an effective way. We have a co-produced Public Engagement with Research (PER) Strategy and an oversight Committee that includes academics from across the institution as well as externals and cascades information through regular PER Forums in each of our five Colleges. We also have the Leading to Engage scheme, through which we’ve trained and supported 12 PER Champions, with a second cohort to be recruited in early 2019. We also link in closely with our PGR and ECR advanced skills and careers training programmes and networks. We offer practical training in PER, including intensive skills workshops and our annual sell-out PER Day conference and widely advertise dozens of opportunities to get involved through our newsletters and regular communications that go out across the institution and beyond; as we always aim to open our work out to externals where possible.

Our public engagement hallmark

A montage of PER at UoB, credits: Greg Milner and Caroline Gillett

The hallmark of our work at Birmingham has to be our ambitious and forward-looking attitude. When we were presented with our Silver Engage Watermark we were keen to demonstrate that we see the Watermark process as a jumping off point rather than a destination. We also always try to explore new ideas and bring novel concepts to our researchers. Our training events like our Worlds Collide mixers and new series of Creative Engagement workshops work to bring creatives, artists, scientists, externals and researchers of all types together to learn from one another. Similarly, our events, like Lapworth Lates and Research at the Heart of Brum, focus on how to surprise and delight audiences, such as bringing PER into unexpected settings or using provocative themes and colliding different types of engagement practice together within a single event. We also aim to work in collaboration or as part of partnerships as much as possible and are mindful to really listen to feedback and external voices.

Our public engagement talking point

Inspired by the 2018 Engage Conference theme of ‘Facing the Future’ and subsequent discussions, including from our own ‘Future Places, Spaces and People’ session, we’ve been thinking a lot about navigating the future, and in particular how we balance pragmatism and values. For our session we created a tarot-like card game, where teams drew their hand of fate from five suits; ‘Research Theme’, ‘Place’, ‘Space’, ‘People’ and ‘Method’, then planned engagement activities within these restrictions on audiences, location and approaches. Halfway through we twisted fate, using ‘Fortune’ and ‘Jeopardy’ cards to see how our players would respond to calamity and opportunity, though they also had a ‘Joker’ to use where they felt the restriction went too far. We wanted to recognise, that while high quality engagement should start with the key principles of ‘Purpose’, ‘People’, ‘Process’ (that is, you can’t know what to do or for/with whom until you know what you’re trying to achieve), reality rarely works according to plan. In fact, doing public engagement well is often a balancing act between serendipity and strategy. Needless to say, we don’t think we have the answers, but would love to explore the topic further!

Our public engagement people

A still from 'The Neutrino Passoire' dance developed between dancers, a musician and Birmingham physicists

We are lucky to be spoilt for choice as we have so many incredible researchers, groups and support staff involved in really brilliant public engagement, so we’ve decided to choose a whole department! The School of Physics and Astronomy has a ‘nucleus’ of keen and committed engagers who have created a wealth of superb engagement activities. From the music of stars on Gogglebox, to pioneering particle physics for primary schools and for the visually impaired, and from a whole arcade’s worth of physics games and apps, to dances, exhibitions and more. The key group leaders are; Prof Andreas Freise, Prof Cristina Lazzeroni, Prof William Chaplin and Prof Kostas Nikolopoulos, but dozens and dozens of other staff and students have given countless hours of their time to this work too, so we want to recognise all of them. Click the links to find out more about engagement with our particle physics, astrophysics and gravitational waves research.

Contact

Elizabeth Westlake, Deputy Director, Research Planning

e.westlake@bham.ac.uk