Why we've signed the Manifesto
"Public engagement plays a vital role at the University of Bristol, informing our research, teaching and learning, and our work as an employer. It deepens our understanding of real-world problems, helps us realise the impact of our research on society, and creates opportunities for our students to develop the skills needed to address urgent social, economic and environmental challenges. As a leading research institute and a global civic university, we recognise that public engagement activities create opportunities for people outside the institution to shape and participate in our research and understand its significance to their lives. Public engagement enables us to build trust, and create dialogue and connections, helping us build a locally and globally responsible and relevant university that works with others for mutual benefit. The University of Bristol is a founding partner of the NCCPE and continues to value its role in facilitating and promoting good practice across the sector. Signing the Manifesto highlights our ongoing commitment to deepening and developing high-quality public engagement practice and to sharing expertise with colleagues inside and outside the University of Bristol."
Professor Hugh Brady, Vice Chancellor, University of Bristol
Our approach to public engagement
The University of Bristol’s approach to public engagement recognises that people and partnerships are central to increasing our impact, reach, and relevance. As well as building institutional capacity for public engagement and identifying opportunities for research staff and students at all levels, we develop pioneering projects, providing innovative ways for the University and communities to connect, exchange ideas and collaborate throughout the research process. Our approach is responsive and reflexive—we deliberate on our successes and mistakes with our partners and share our learning and insights across the University and beyond. We co-create projects with our communities, embedding public engagement across our curricula and in core University developments, such as the Temple Quarter Enterprise Campus. We also collaborate internationally and have a strong track record of securing European Commission funding to develop projects such as Synenergene, PERFORM, and European Researchers’ Night. Our ultimate aim for public engagement is that no community is excluded from the conversations about research that shape our collective future.
Our public engagement hallmark
Invincible: A catalyst for conversations about ethical and societal issues in research
A recent project that influenced our work is Invincible—a collaborative production between BrisSynBio researchers and Kilter Theatre. Invincible was a site-specific and immersive play exploring an imagined future of synthetic biology. The key to Invincible’s success was that it was a true collaboration built on respect, trust, listening and a shared belief in the project. The collaboration led to a well-received and well-attended play. However, it was clear that the process of development was more important—it offered space for powerful discussions about the future of research and society, ethics and responsibility that had a profound impact on the way that researchers, artists and the Public Engagement team now work. The project sparked a new ethos within BrisSynBio and beyond. Since Invincible, the exploration of the ethical and societal issues of BrisSynBio’s research has been at the core of their events, training and partnerships with artists—and it has also strongly influenced BrisSynBio’s public engagement strategy. More widely, we are sharing the learning from this collaboration and are bringing Kilter Theatre together with other research groups (Quantum Engineering and VR) to explore the societal issues of their research.
Our public engagement talking point
A key thread running through many of our projects is responsibility in science and innovation, inspired by the theme of Responsible Research and Innovation within the European Commission’s Horizon 2020. For us, this means working with researchers to develop their reflexive capacities, encouraging them to think about what responsibility means in the context of their work, and about how public engagement plays a central role in their responsibilities as researchers and innovators. Undertaking this work with researchers has led us to reflect on our own practice and think about how we can apply the techniques and approaches of reflexivity to the way that we work as engagement practitioners. Already, this is having wide-ranging impacts—from the way that we plan projects and build in reflexivity into the process, to considering the legacy of projects and taking care of the relationships we have created. Our work in this area is ongoing, and we are keen to explore a variety of practices and learn from different fields. We are happy to share our learning and further this conversation with the engagement community.
Our public engagement people
Ellie Hart, Philosophy Practitioner
Ellie Hart’s work connecting philosophy of science and RRI has provided a catalyst for our reflexive practice, challenging and shaping our thinking. Ellie’s contribution to our PERFORM project, which aimed to find out whether performing arts can be used to better develop young people’s engagement with science, scientists and scientific research, has influenced how we work with a host of community partners, including schools and school teachers. It has also encouraged us to prioritise creating more space for researchers to talk about these vital issues.
Amy Walsh, Bristol Green Capital Partnership Liaison Officer
Amy manages the University of Bristol side of the Skills Bridge project—a joint initiative between University of Bristol and UWE that creates engaged learning opportunities between students and local organisations and builds organisational capacity through student volunteering and internships. Amy connects University of Bristol students with Bristol Green Capital Partnership’s 800-member organisations across Bristol, helping them set up mutually beneficial co-produced projects with benefits to wider society. Last year, Skills Bridge connected 75 partners with students, creating 39 volunteering opportunities, 17 paid internships, and 23 engaged learning projects for 119 students—providing at least 10,500 hours of civic engagement for students in the city.
Rosa Robinson, Head of Public Engagement