ChallengeCPD - what affects the provision and uptake of training for public engagement?

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We found out recently that we were successful in securing another RCUK grant. The grant is giving us some time to look at, and improve, our CPD and training offer and to work with the National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement to inform the development of national training programmes. The provision and uptake of professional development for public engagement with research is a real sticking point in furthering the public engagement work in UK Universities. For example, people who provide CPD find that researchers don't attend, while researchers wanting to undertake training find it hard to identify, at a time that suits them.

We started work on the project at the beginning of October and recently attended a project kick-off meeting where we all worked on a good old logic model.

Our focus for the first few weeks has been to identify what we know about CPD and training for researchers in general, as well as for PE specifically. Already we're beginning to find some useful structural issues that might indicate why this is a challenging area. These are four headlines from a quick literature review and some initial conversations with experts in the field. We'll be testing these with our Advisory Group next week. Do they resonate with you?

Researcher Identity:
Academics have significant agency in exploring, and to some extent defining, what it means to be a professional in the contexts in which they live and work, alongside regulating theirs and their peers ongoing adherence to vigorous academic standards. Quite often they will identify themselves as a Historian, a Scientist, a Dentist or a multitude of other professions in contrast to being a researcher at a particular institution.

There is a lack of awareness of development opportunities from central departments (i.e. Library, HR, and the Centre for Teaching and Learning) and a perceived lack of time or support to engage with these opportunities, though there is a willingness too.

Researcher and Institutional Culture:
There are pockets of resistance towards institutional led professional development amongst the academic community. For some researchers CPD is too heavily associated with growing instrumentalism and an ongoing assault on academic freedom. Furthermore, academic qualifications are being viewed as being sufficient to prepare researchers for other elements of their role (i.e. supervision, teaching, engagement).

The development and delivery of CPD within HEIs is distributed across a wide range of central departments alongside faculty and departmental provision. This can sometimes lead towards a loose connection between CPD, individual, departmental, institutional and societal goals. Academic developers themselves may also lack a clearly defined professional role and progression.

Public Engagement CPD:
Much development work linked to research and scholarship is not recognised as professional development. In comparison to public engagement there appears to be a more sophisticated suite of resources and tools to support staff in understanding and articulating excellence in teaching practice and therefore professional development. Whilst a variety of different forms of training and professional development exist for public engagement, including for example: (MSc courses, short training courses and ‘just in time’ support, coaching and mentoring), practice is orientated towards one-off training courses, typically introductory or advanced public engagement.

Evaluation and Development:
Trainers and enablers are much more aligned in their perceptions of training when compared to researchers. We found very few examples of researchers involved in the design of training. We found very little by way of formal programmes designed to support ongoing reflective engagement. The discussion in the literature was largely focused on one-off training interventions, and there is a clear need for ‘active learning’ and ‘participatory’ techniques to support effective engagement activity.

In accordance to the tendency in formal training to focus on one-off activity-based interventions, the approaches taken to evaluation are often restricted to an immediate assessment of the extent to which the training met the needs and goals of participants. It is apparent that there is a lack of long-term evaluation, or a broader understanding of the role of professional development in generating behaviour change and improving practice.


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