University of Southampton

Cave painting at Archaeology Village, Science & Engineering Festival 2017

Why we've signed the Manifesto

"Universities have a fundamental role in society and the public engagement of our staff and students creates opportunities for them to share the exciting educational and research developments which contribute to our mission to change the world for the better."

Professor Sir Christopher Snowden, President and Vice-Chancellor

Our approach to public engagement

The University of Southampton recognises public engagement as vital to its role in society locally, nationally and internationally; we have an established track record of excellence, for both the scale and quality of our engagement activities. A number of strategic initiatives in the period since our Manifesto sign-up have helped us develop as an engaged university. The Public Engagement with Research unit inspires and supports high-quality public engagement across all disciplines, collaborating closely with our Public Policy, Research & Innovation, Outreach and PPI teams. A spectrum of opportunities and high quality engagement platforms (Human Worlds Festival, Science & Engineering Festival, Research Café, ‘Bringing Research to Life’ Roadshow) encourage participation from students, researchers and academic staff at all levels of seniority; a number of groups and networks – both internal and external - facilitate discussion and ideas-sharing and inform planning. Annual seed-funding for innovative engagement projects and a continuing focus on CPD and evaluation of engagement activities provide a maturing infrastructure within which engagement can thrive. The Engaged University Steering Group provides strategic oversight with leadership from the Vice President Research and Enterprise.

Our public engagement hallmark

Hub ideas board at Solent Showcase - April 2018

Building on the success of our engagement platforms, our Public Engagement Hubs are bringing a new dimension to the spectrum of engagement at Southampton. The Hubs draw together individuals with a shared interest around a particular theme (students, researchers and academic staff, and stakeholders from outside the University) to explore collaborative potential for:

  • generation of new ideas, activities and projects;
  • co-production of research;
  • joint funding applications;
  • a coordinated approach to engagement, with enhanced outcomes;
  • bringing public engagement into education and the student experience.

Hubs are galvanizing around the following themes:

  • Nature & Biodiversity – contributing to BioBlitz and other local initiatives; taking students and staff to national events such as the Festival of Nature (Bristol) and BBC Countryfile Live;
  • Community Health and Wellbeing – attracting almost 100 members in its first year, this Hub connects staff and students with community organisations working in the field and is contributing to Southampton’s Health and Wellbeing Strategy 2017-2025. Through the Hub a range of researchers presented the environmental and health impacts of air pollution at the City’s Clean Air Festival in June 2018;
  • Future Cities – discussing initiatives of relevance to people today that will help shape the City of Southampton for our future generations.

Our public engagement talking point

The next generation of researchers are expecting to find excellent research engagement infrastructure in their institutions, and the sector will need to be responsive to this evolving demand while continuing to build capacity and connectivity based on previous learning. The RCUK/UKRI-funded Strategic Support to Expedite Embedding Public Engagement with Research (SEE-PER) project is building on the success and learning from the Beacons, Catalysts and Catalyst Seed Fund-holders - as well as addressing specific challenge areas identified in the Factors Affecting Public Engagement by Researchers and State of Play reports. Southampton is pleased to be contributing to the expansion of sector knowledge and the development of our own engagement infrastructure, by working to address the ‘challenge’ of training take-up. Through this project, we aim to embed a culture of proactive involvement whereby quality PER training is routinely encountered and engagement activities and outcomes are enhanced.

Our public engagement people

Matt Short, Jess Spurrell and Sam Mangham from the Mapping Tool team

Dr Jess Spurrell (Schools/University Partnerships Officer) has been leading an exciting project to create a university-wide map of public engagement and outreach events and activities. The volume of activity at Southampton is high, but much of it is not formally logged or known about at ‘institutional’ level. This hinders our ability to ensure high quality delivery; coordinate for efficiency/effectiveness; measure reach and impact; identify gaps; highlight opportunities; and share good practice.

Addressing this challenge head-on – when many have said it could not be done - the Mapping Tool Team (Jess Spurrell, Matt Short – Outreach/WP, and John Robinson, Simon Hettrick, Sam Mangham - Research Software Engineering Group) have developed an accessible on-line interface which enables:

  • easy logging of a wide range of activities by individual staff, students or teams;
  • information-sharing about those activities and the individuals involved;
  • interfacing with other related systems to import and export relevant data sets;
  • visualisation of eg concentrations of activities, connections and links, gaps and opportunities.
  • an evolving evidence-base for sharing and shaping engagement practice and informing strategy.

The system is in beta-test phase at time of writing, with a formal launch across the University anticipated for 2019. It has been received, by ‘on-the-ground’ staff and senior leaders alike, with enthusiasm and excitement.


Jo James, PERu Deputy Director & Professional Services Lead