Why does learning matter?
“I was re-looking at an internal review we did of capacity, willingness and interest of staff to work with small social organisations, community organisations and small businesses … about forty percent of that cohort of people had said explicitly they could value some training and assistance and help. They weren’t comfortable in talking to a non-university audience.” Manager, Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh
Public engagement can bring great rewards – both for the university and for the public its staff and students engage with. But this mutual benefit can’t be taken for granted: it relies on real skill and expertise. Many staff and students recognise that they need help to develop these skills and aptitudes, and an institution that wants to support them effectively needs to take account of this.
The experiences of the beacons and others suggest that the following four areas are vital to supporting high quality, effective public engagement, providing support both for informal learning and for more formal professional development:
- Supporting informal development
- Learning informally from colleagues and sharing public engagement experience is very valuable. Actively bringing together people from across your institution with an interest in public engagement, and helping them to access and share relevant information can build a sense of community and lead to new partnerships and collaborations that significantly improve the quality of public engagement activities.
- Building formal support into CPD programmes
- The transferable skills and aptitudes required for effective public engagement makes it likely that there are already many relevant courses in your institution, although there may be some gaps. Integrating high quality public engagement training as part of your institution’s professional development programmes will benefit individual researchers and the institution as a whole. The NCCPE also offer support for training and staff development, including several 'train the trainer' courses.
- Providing opportunities for learning
- Training courses can be useful but people also need to engage with the public and reflect on their experience to truly develop their expertise. Participating in local festivals and museum events, established public engagement projects or fellowship schemes provide some routes to learning about public engagement in practice.
- Investing in infrastructure
- Infrastructure is also important: for instance, individuals with expertise and defined responsibilities for the strategy; central web-pages listing opportunities; systems for staff to set and track their own goals and link these to the institution's appraisal process can make a big difference.