The University of Sheffield

Why we've signed the Manifesto

"As a civic university – a university founded for and by the people of the city – our research priorities should reflect societal goals. This cannot be done without public engagement being embedded in our research. We have signed the NCCPE Manifesto for Public Engagement as it aligns with our belief that universities have a major responsibility to contribute to society through public engagement. It also demonstrates our commitment to supporting all University of Sheffield researchers with their public engagement activities and signals that the value and importance that the University places upon public engagement."

Professor Vanessa Toulmin, Director of City & Cultural Engagement 

Our approach to public engagement

The University of Sheffield has a multi-layered approach to public engagement which aims to support academics to undertake public engagement with research and enhance the cultural vibrancy of the city. To achieve this, we deliver a series of festivals and events which provide a platform for our academics to engage the public with their research. These consist of University-organised cross-disciplinary events (such as Festival of the Mind and the Mobile University), national or international festivals (such as Pint of Science, ESRC Festival of Social Science, Being Human, Medical Research Council Festival and International Clinical Trials Day) and delivering a particular strand or theme within existing city-wide festivals (such as Sheffield Doc/Fest, Migration Matters, Festival of Debate and SheFest). The Public Engagement Team also works to change the culture surrounding public engagement at the University through engaging with senior leadership and the provision of training via a dedicated public engagement masterclass series. We are also seeking to help our researchers to achieve impact through public engagement.

Our public engagement hallmark

Festival of the Mind is our flagship public engagement festival. It brings together academics from all faculties to work with professionals from Sheffield’s cultural, creative and digital industries to bring their research to life in new exciting, innovative and entertaining ways. The festival takes place every two years over 11 days in multiple venues around the city. The festival hub is a beautiful 1900s Spiegeltent which is located in the heart of the city. Other venues include galleries, museums, exhibition spaces, Sheffield Cathedral, Winter Garden and the local market. Over 50,000 people attended the 2016 festival and 98% of visitors said that they learnt something new by attending. The festival is supported by over 150 volunteers who are staff and students at the University, providing an opportunity for everyone from the university’s community to take part. 
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Our public engagement talking point

One of the current challenges we are facing is thinking about what good quality public engagement looks like in the context of the Research Excellence Framework (REF) and how it can help to deliver impact in this context. We are also thinking about the ways in which impact from public engagement activities can be evidenced, so as to demonstrate that there has been a change in the audience’s understanding, awareness, attitudes or behaviour. There are a number of difficulties with trying to evidence this due to the nature of engagement with audiences, trying to attribute the causes of the changes and following up with audiences down the line. As REF is such an important part of the research landscape, we also experience a challenge trying to engage with busy academics who feel public engagement may be a distraction from research excellence as opposed to something that is part of research excellence itself.


Greg Oldfield, Head of Public Engagement