How do you know your public engagement made a difference?

QMUL’s Festival of Communities sticker challenge

Mark Reed reflects on the new open-access evaluation toolkit developed for Queen Mary University of London Centre for Public Engagement.

Lots of researchers invest huge amounts of energy, enthusiasm and creativity in public engagement activities, which may run over many years. However, many feel they don’t have enough support to evidence the changes their projects sought to make in a robust way, which they can be confident in.

Poorly planned evaluation and monitoring might only tell us if we pleased or bored people. And while some initial comments might help us improve our practice in the short-term, they tell us very little about the long-term impact of our work.

Luckily, evaluating the impact of public engagement just got a whole lot easier with the publication of Queen Mary University London’s (QMUL) Public Engagement Evaluation Toolkit. The toolkit and accompanying research paper in Research For All was developed for QMUL’s Centre for Public Engagement by Fast Track Impact, the National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement (NCCPE) and Dialogue Matters.

As well as giving an overview of how to approach evaluating public engagement projects, the toolkit showcases 21 creative tools which are designed to inspire you to integrate evaluation and monitoring into your activity. This enables you to evaluate your work in a way that fits the setting and tone of your event or initiative, and the needs of your audience/participants. Here are a few of our favourites…

Video diaries

Participants could record their reflections at intervals throughout a project using their mobile phones, either using a video app on their phone or a video diary app such as VideoPop, SocialCam Video Camera, My Video Diary or LifeCloud.

Event apps

Some app developers provide cost-effective off-the-shelf, customizable event apps, which can be used to gather audience information and feedback. These are typically owned by a University that puts on a range of events. Users are able to choose from upcoming events to get access to the event programme, speakers, maps, directions, social media streams and feedback forms. These apps provide value to attendees whilst providing you with the option to contact people via an app notification during and/or after the event to request feedback.

Reward cards

For public engagement initiatives which include multiple events or activities, to incentivise engagement with as many activities as possible, you can use a reward card system for participants to collect stickers or stamps at each of the events or activities they take part in. A full set of stickers or stamps makes them eligible for a reward or prize. For example, at QMUL’s Festival of Communities, completing the 'sticker challenge' wins you a cuddly bee! If the reward (such as a discount code or voucher) can be sent via email or text message, you could also seek consent to retain contact details for future engagement, providing an opportunity for longitudinal follow-up as part of future evaluation. If each activity has a unique sticker or stamp, you can identify particularly popular events or activities by counting the stickers on submitted reward cards (or the empty sticker sheets), which can help with planning future events.

Why not share your favourite evaluation tools in the comments below?

Download the full toolkit

Don’t forget, if you’re looking for further support and guidance on evaluating your public engagement activities, or you are keen to explore evaluating culture change – then the NCCPE can help.

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