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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 20142015 and 2016 are available here.   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.

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.

Douglas Brown, Senior Policy Advisor, Scottish Government; Laura Bellingan, Director of Science Policy, RSB; Alex Burch, Head of Visitor Experience, Learning & Outreach, Natural History Museum;  Gail Cardew, Director of Science and Education, Royal Institute; Jenni Chambers, Head of Public Engagement with Research, RCUK; Simon Chaplin, Director of Culture & Society, Wellcome Trust; Andrew Cohen, Head of Science, BBC; Ian Duffy, Community Engagement Manager, BP; Jon Edwards, Communications Manager, RSC; Penny Fidler, Chief Executive, ASDC; Hayley Gowen, Public Engagement with Science; BEIS; Imran Khan, Head of Public Engagement, Wellcome Trust; Katherine Mathieson, CEO, British Science Association; Clare Matterson, Wellcome Trust; Lesley Miles, Chief Strategy Officer, Royal Society; Tom O’Leary, Director of Learning, Science Museum Group; Stephen Stanton Policy advisor, Science, Engineering and Design &Technology Team; Department for Education; Louise Swann, Head of Outreach and Engagement, Institute of Physics; Jo Trigg, Head of Communications, Royal Academy of Engineering; Russ Williams, National Science Academy Project Manager, Welsh Government.