quality practice

Public Engagement Trainer's Forum?

updated on 09 Oct 2023
3 minutes

Is there value in a UK network for people who devise and deliver training in science communication and public engagement? We've been exploring this with the BIG STEM Communicators Network. 


We (NCCPE and BIG) play different roles in the public engagement and science communication sector, however both organisations are involved with devising and delivering training.

Because of this common interest, we thought it would be useful to have a chat about training. We were also aware of Clio Hislop’s recent work looking at science communication training in the USA and heard that there is a network for trainers in the USA. We were wondering if there could be merit in a UK network.

In our conversation we noted that:

  • There is a diversity of people and organisations who devise and deliver training
  • There is a diversity of topics that are covered across all this training, but there is no overall “curriculum”
  • We only know about our professional friends and colleagues’ work
  • The lack of knowledge beyond our own networks is exclusionary 
  • The provision of training is a competitive market
  • There could be value in collective work

The exclusive nature of relying on personal networks

For the convening organisations, we find that we rely on our personal networks, not least because we know that they hold similar approaches to quality training. By nature these networks are limited. How do we work together to support the development needs around public engagement and science communication? How do we make referrals to other trainers, when we don’t have capacity to do the work ourselves? To what extent does relying on people whose training we know reduce the diversity within the sector, and encourage a one size fits all approach? 

We hope that a network could help address this challenge by offering new people a route in, but are mindful that we don’t want to create another tiered system, with people who are in the network, and those who are not. 

Underpinning this challenge is how a network is conceived and formed. Is it open to anyone? Do members have to sign up to a set of principles, and if so how are those principles developed and agreed? What would its purpose be - to learn from one another as we share insights and practices; to collaborate together more effectively; to raise the quality of training offered across the sector; to be a place where people can source trainers to meet their needs. We hope to explore these ideas at the meeting. 

Tensions between competition and collaboration

Whilst we recognise the value in sharing practice, and know we have lots to learn from one another, there is clearly an elephant in the room. Many of those involved in delivering effective public engagement and science communication training are doing so as freelancers or businesses. Others see this work as a key part of addressing the needs of the sector, but also need this to be income generating activity to support other work. We are keen to recognise the tension this brings to a potential network. Whilst working collectively to improve the quality and diversity of our practice can bring significant benefit to all those involved, it could also have unplanned outcomes that affect people’s livelihoods. How might this be acknowledged, and what could we do to mitigate against unexpected or unplanned effects?   

This blog was written by Sarah Cosgill, Sophie Duncan and Helen Featherstone.