NAM 2020: Allies, Agility and Uncertainty

Posted in: Leading Public Engagement

This is the third entry of a blog series about embedding a positive culture of public engagement at NAM 2020. Read the other entries here.

We have now heard from the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS) that NAM 2020 has been postponed due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Whilst this means some of our work will have to go on hold, the University of Bath is committed to hosting NAM 2021 and we are looking forwards to continuing our work to embed public engagement in NAM next year. To do this we need to take stock of what we have already done and how we can build on this work in the time between now and NAM 2021.

Maintaining relationships with stakeholders and allies

Our first priority is to get in touch with our allies and other stakeholders and keep them up to date, helping to preserve our relationship. The exercise to map all the stakeholders early on has proven useful here, these have included training providers, the University of Bath Edge arts team, the Science, Technology and Facilities Council, the RAS outreach team and others. These represent a diverse group of allies who all value public engagement with research and many of whom have direct experience of public engagement at NAM in previous years.

It’s important that we respect that this is a difficult time for our allies, particularly freelance professionals who may have had other work cancellations. We are committed to supporting these colleagues who may be facing difficulty in the months ahead.  Once we have a better idea of when NAM 2021 will be taking place, we will return to them schedule the training in and agree a payment schedule, for example one option could be 50% payment to secure the booking and 50% payment on successful delivery of the training. We will of course be led by our colleagues, but we need to be flexible with these key allies.

Maintaining new relationships

Some of these allies are people we had pre-existing relationships with, but others were newly formed relationships. As we have created these relationships, we need to ensure we maintain them and stay connected with allies who will be important for us for NAM 2021. This means keeping allies informed of our plans as we find out more about NAM 2021, booking in calls and keeping in touch by email so that we can pick back up our conversations from this year in time for NAM 2021.

It's also important for us to take a holistic view of our allies and stakeholders and be sure to include everyone we've worked with or spoken to such as venues for public engagement events, internal teams at the University and conference delegates we've been in contact with. This way we can stay embedded within the NAM process and more easily pick up these conversations in the future.

Preparing for 2021

As we look forwards to NAM 2021, we need to take stock and consider what we have already achieved. So far, we have:

  • Embedded ourselves in the organising structures of the conference
  • Created an operational plan across for embedding public engagement at NAM
  • Gained an understanding of the nature of engagement that is valued by the NAM community of researchers
  • Reviewed and agreed session proposals relating to engagement
  • Created several engagement opportunities for researchers attending NAM to engage public groups with their work
  • Developed several training opportunities for NAM delegates that reflect the needs of the researchers attending NAM
  • Built in a public engagement showcase as part of the traditional NAM poster session to give researchers an opportunity to share their engagement work
  • Made connections with key allies from across the astronomy research sector and within the University of Bath
  • Mapped the key stakeholders for NAM

Not all this work can be carried over to NAM 2021. We will need to find new dates for training sessions and might need to go through the session review process again in some form. However, there is a great deal here we can build on.

Instead of creating a new operational plan for NAM 2021 we can adapt and implement our current plan. This gives us more time to ensure the plan meets the needs of NAM delegates by gathering feedback from our allies such as the Local Organising Committee and others who have attended NAM in the past.

As we are now working from home, we are also using this time to explore non-face-to-face engagement platforms such as Microsoft Teams live events. This could allow us to broaden our offer for NAM 2021 and offer training or engagement opportunities that don’t rely on face-to-face contact which allows us to support a broader range of researchers and activities.

Next Steps

We’ve already made some headway into embedding public engagement into NAM 2020 and we have lots to build on for 2021. A key lesson for us is being agile and able to adapt to rapidly changing circumstances as well keeping in touch with all our stakeholders and allies so we can preserve these relationships for the future.

I expect this will be the last NAM blog entry for a little while. Hopefully the insight into how we are taking our learning from embedding public engagement at the institution into a conference setting has been useful and we'll resume the blog series later this year as we prepare for NAM 2021.

Rob Cooper is a Public Engagement Officer at the University of Bath.

Posted in: Leading Public Engagement


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