How can we mobilise this community to do excellent public engagement with environmental science?
The NERC Engaging Environments programme supports ambitious projects to engage the UK public with contemporary environmental science issues on a national scale. The initial phase of this initiative awarded £500,000 to six projects in 2017 to build a long-term, effective and innovative public engagement community across the UK. These six projects each brought a different approach to this challenge, from training researchers to use narrative skills and creative arts to engage diverse audiences, to developing relationships with community organisations to explore what they want to know about environmental issues. The lessons learned from this programme can be found in the Engaging Environments booklet.
As one of the funded projects, the NCCPE was delighted to provide a coordinating ‘hub’ for the Engaging Environments project; we supported the projects to work together and share learning, and facilitated collaboration between the projects and the wider sector, ensuring that stakeholders and other relevant organisations were able to get involved in the work. In addition to this we commissioned a small piece of independent research to find out more about how NERC-funded researchers viewed public engagement, and how it was supported, to inform future work in this area.
The report draws on survey and interview data from over sixty members of the NERC research community, who were asked to reflect on their varied roles, their access to public engagement and related support, development opportunities, and challenges. The majority of participants were positive and enthusiastic about NERC’s ethos around public engagement and keen to engage. Motivations for engagement included to inform and learn from the public, to make their research relevant, to enhance impact, and to be accountable.
Key challenges identified in the report echo those seen across the HEI sector as a whole, in particular the need for more to be done to embed engagement into the culture of academic and institutional workplaces. Access to training and support was also identified as a challenge, especially around impact and evaluation.
With NERC in the process of writing their new public engagement with research strategy, we hope that this report will offer insights from this diverse research community, as well as ideas to help great practice thrive. We’re grateful to the NERC public engagement team for their help and support in this project, and their openness to learn from the outcomes.