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National Forum for Public Engagement in STEM

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The National Forum for Public Engagement in STEM was established in 2014 by the Wellcome Trust and the department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS).

The Forum brings together key funders and organisations involved in setting the national agenda for public engagement in STEM. It aims to help deliver a step change in activity across the sectors involved in informal science learning, by improving collaboration, co-operation and learning. The need for the Forum was identified in the two independent reviews of informal science learning, commissioned by the Wellcome Trust in 2011.   

  • Forum objectives
    • Improve models and approaches to funding Through providing members with the opportunity to share funding priorities and approaches.

    • Prioritise topics and identify gaps The Forum will highlight gaps or strategic priorities in terms of topical areas, areas of public interest or specific audience groups.

    • Set an agenda for research The Forum will identify priorities for future research related to public engagement.

    • Gain robust evidence to support advocacy The Forum will share research and evidence on best practice and the impact of public engagement.

    • Ensure more effective evaluation The Forum will work towards more effective approaches to and uses of evaluation, such as working with other sectors to test alternative methods and greater sharing of results.

    • The NCCPE provides the secretariat to the Forum. This role includes: facilitating Forum meetings; evidence-gathering to inform Forum decision making; developing resources to support informal HE STEM; and linking the Forum with people working on informal HE STEM provision through regular updates and consultations.

      The Forum takes a broad view of ‘public engagement’ as the spectrum of activity that connects STEM and publics of all ages. These activities are broad and diverse: entertaining, informing and educating people about STEM; entering dialogue on the directions and future for STEM research; and creating opportunities for people to participate in STEM activity. The Forum is interested in ‘informal science experiences’ as activities that complement or enrich formal STEM learning.
  • Forum activities
    • Meeting summaries for 2014 and 2015 are available here:   National Forum for Public Engagement with STEM: Meeting/Activity Summary 2014 National Forum for Public Engagement with STEM: Meeting/Activity Summary 2015
    • The Forum has been focussed on these four areas.  They are all areas that we felt are urgent priorities for the sector, where we can help to make a collective difference:

    • ~ Evaluation: How can we make evaluation work harder to generate useful insight and evidence that really makes a difference?

    • ~ Funding: To what extent is the current funding system geared to meet the strategic priorities of the sector? Is the funding flowing to the right places to generate long term value? 

    • ~ Engaging Underserved Audiences: how can we develop more equitable access to and engagement with Science for underserved groups?

    • ~ Emerging Science and Technology: Can we find better ways to coordinate our engagement activity linked to emerging areas of controversial and challenging science?

    • Across each of these areas we have undertaken scoping exercises to refine the priorities and ensure that our plans are informed by robust thinking, research and input from the wider sector. The findings from these exercises include: (i) a review of the public engagement funding system, (ii) review of scheme funding and (iii) five approaches to 'openning up' science

      Working groups have been initiated to progress these areas.

      Following a networking event with the sector on the 17th March 2016, three further action areas were prioritised:

    • ~ Training; professional development; skills and resource sharing: What skills and attributes are needed for STEM engagers? How can organisations work together to support skills development?

    • ~ Making the case for engagement / impact: There are constant demands on us, individually and collectively, to articulate the value and impact of PE. What types of evidence do we need to make the case for PE?  Can we develop a clearer, shared set of narratives and arguments and use these more consistently to influence policy / practice?

    • ~ Commission research / thinking: How can we enable sharing across the sector of evidence gathering / research currently in progress to avoid duplication? What are the significant evidence gaps and how can we address them?

      We are scoping out these areas in more detail and working with the sector to develop an action plan. Follow this link for a summary of the event and the Forum's response, a full event report is also available here.

  • Working groups
    • We have established four working groups to make progress against our priorities. This section contains further details and how to get involved. 


      How can we make evaluation work harder to generate useful insight and evidence that really makes a difference?

      The National Forum for Public Engagement with STEM recently commissioned a scoping study which aimed to explore current and potential future evaluation practice within the UK’s National Forum for Public Engagement in STEM, and the wider UK STEM PE community. In response to the findings from this report, a number of challenges were identified:

    • ~ How do you increase evaluation capacity amongst practitioners?
    • ~ What interventions (i.e. training, funding, peer to peer etc.) would be best suited to raise the standard of evaluation across the sector?
    • ~ How could evaluative findings be used more strategically by organisations and funders?
    • ~ How do we alleviate the pressure between evaluation to satisfy funders vs. evaluation that supports reflective practice?
    • ~ How could/do funders signal that evaluation is an important tool when delivering effective engagement?
    • To address these questions a working group was formed that would look at (i) Improving evaluation literacy (ii) investigate ways to support effective evaluation and (iii) commission summary work which draw together learning from project evaluations.

      Key contact Sophie Duncan (

      Engaging underserved audiences

      The case for widening the audiences engaged in science is compelling. Numerous reports and critiques have identified that – despite considerable effort – many groups are currently ‘under-served’ by public engagement. Addressing this problem was one of the founding objectives for the National Forum for Public Engagement with STEM (the ‘Forum’).

      This working group aims to develop a working definition of underserved audiences, to identify areas of strategic work for the Forum in this area and to develop and test the ‘five traditions of public engagement’ concept. At the national event on 17 March 2016, we began this process, exploring the strategic purpose for engagement with underserved audiences, identifying what metrics can be used to define those audiences, and testing the ‘traditions’ concept with key stakeholders with a view to: i) incorporating it into a professional development offer for public engagement practitioners, ii) developing an analysis tool for funders to evaluate their portfolio and iii) promoting critical and reflective dialogue between funders and practitioners – at pre-funding, commissioning and performance evaluation stages about what works. The next stage is to test a proposed methodology with the Forum members and other interested parties.

      Key contacts: Ian Duffy ( and Johanna Kieniewicz (

      Genomics and Gene Editing 

      The Forum identified Genomics and Gene Editing as an area of research for which a collaborative, planned and longer-term approach to public engagement could be beneficial. Specific gaps in engagement activity were identified. These included; the lack of a commonly understood language to describe the science; a need for further engagement looking at the ethical and social issues around the use, privacy and implications of personal data; the need for engagement tackling controversial topics such as the ethics and acceptability of genome editing of the human germ line; and the need for more creative forms of engagement that can reach a larger and more diverse public with genomics.

      The working group is currently considering key mechanisms to address these gaps. We would like to hear from individuals or organisations working in this space.

      Key contact: Amy Sanders (

      Machine Learning

      The Royal Society is currently working on a major policy project on Machine Learning aiming to increase awareness amongst policy makers, the research community, the public and industry, to raise the level of public debate, identify scientific challenges and explore how the developments might bring social and economic benefits to the UK.

      As part of the project the Society are undertaking the following activities:

    • ~ Early engagement with the public including focus groups, deliberative workshops and an online community

    • ~ Public events including panel discussions, talks and showcasing existing projects (including at the Summer Science Exhibition)
    • ~ Interactive digital content including infographics, short films, animations and quizzes which will be produced from now until the final policy report is launched
    • ~ Workshops with Industry leaders and policy makers 
    • ~ The publication of a final report
    • ~ Disseminating the messages and recommendations to each of the project’s four audiences (public, policy, industry and research).
    • For any updates on the project or to share any related or similar activity, please contact Tracey Hughes, Head of Marketing and Public Engagement,


      Supporting the Professionalisation of Public Engagement

      South West Pilot

      Following the National Networking Event, The Forum was approached by three active members of the STEM Community with a proposal to look at professionalising Public Engagement, using the South West as a pilot area. The pilot seeks to explore ways in which providers in the region could collaborate with a long-term vision to:

      ~ Develop skills;

      ~ Advance practice through sharing of expertise and resources;

      ~ Improve content;

      ~ Increase reach (numbers of publics reached);

      ~ Increase the size and diversity of the audiences reached, for example, by better marketing, and reducing duplication of provision;

      ~ Evidence the value of learning in out‐of‐school settings.

      We are looking to connect with people who would be able to act as a critical friend for the project, looking at emergent learning and exploring the relevance to your region.

      Key contact: Helen Featherstone (

  • Forum membership
    • Several organisations are represented on the Forum, each member has its own objectives for involvement in public engagement in STEM, yet all coalesce around the broad ambition of creating a positive and supportive environment in which STEM can flourish and benefit society.

    • Laura-Anne Brown (Scottish Government), Laura Bellinghan (Royal Society of Biology), Alex Burch (Natural History Museum), Jenni Chambers (Research Councils UK), Simon Chaplin (Wellcome), Andrew Cohen (BBC), Ian Duffy (BP), Jon Edwards (Royal Society of Chemistry), Russ Williams (Welsh Government), Imran Khan (Wellcome), Johanna Kieniewicz (Institute of Physics), Katherine Mathieson (British Science Association), Clare Matterson (Wellcome), Lesley Miles (Royal Society), Tom O'Leary (Science Museum), Harshbir Sangha (BEIS), Stephen Stanton (DFE), Jo Trigg (Royal Academy of Engineering), Susannah Wiltshire (BEIS), Russ Williams (Welsh Government)