Working to embed a culture of public engagement with research can feel like an adventure into the unknown at times. It's an adventure we at the Public Engagement Unit at the University of Bath have been on ourselves since 2012. We know advocating for public engagement is not always easy or straightforward, so we wanted to find a way to share some of our insight into the process and have developed A Field Guide to Public Engagement and Culture Change.
Public Engagement at the University of Bath
Since we were formed back in 2012 as part of the Research Council UK (now Research and Innovation UK) Public Engagement with Research Catalyst project, we’ve learned a great deal about what public engagement with research at the University of Bath looks like.
Over time, we’ve developed an approach that works well for us as we support colleagues to engage public groups with their research. This approach operates over four strands:
Doing Public Engagement - providing opportunities for researchers to get started through participation in existing activities and offering grants to help those who want to develop their practice.
Learning About Public Engagement - offering a range of training and professional development opportunities for colleagues (researchers, doctoral students and professional services) including workshops, one-to-one mentoring and online tools such as the Public Engagement Knowledge Hub.
Celebrating Public Engagement - running the Vice-Chancellor's Engage Awards and using communication tools to showcase and raise the profile of engaged researchers.
Leading Public Engagement - leading the public engagement agenda at the University and using our expertise to contribute to conversations across the sector.
Peer to peer support
As a result of our being around for a while, we often get requests from colleagues in other universities wanting to draw on our expertise in how we support and work with people to embed public engagement. These requests often centre on practical advice and guidance, such as:
- What training do you provide? How do you advertise it to researchers?
- How do you manage your grant scheme? What sort of projects arise?
- Do you have public engagement in your promotions and probations criteria?
Answering these questions is relatively straightforward, and we are very happy to share all our resources. For us, this role is important as we drew on the support of our cohort of universities as part of the Catalyst project and on the experience of the Beacon universities to better understand how to embed public engagement. However, sharing grant guidance or criteria for awards schemes doesn't really reflect the thinking behind our approach, how we worked with and mobilised people across the University, or how we dealt with challenges and resistance. This insight could be just as valuable as practical support, so for the last year, we've been working with David Owen from Gurukula and designers Boyle&Perks to create a guide that shares our experiences creating a positive culture of public engagement with research direct from the field.
A Field Guide to Public Engagement and Culture Change
We not only wanted to share our approach but also create a useful resource for all those who may find themselves responsible for raising the profile of public engagement at their institution. A Field Guide to Public Engagement and Culture Change is an interactive tool, which we've organised into four parts covering 25 exercises:
- Understanding 'Culture' - looking at habits and habitat and how they make up a culture of a place,
- Understanding Your University - getting to know your university better and thinking about your role enabling culture change as a change agent,
- Thinking About Your Approach - reflecting on your motivations, skills and expertise to develop your approach to culture change,
- Key Lessons We’ve Learned - sharing the approach we took to culture change over 11 short exercises.
Our aim with this Field Guide is not for colleagues to replicate our approach (because much of how we work reflects the culture of the University of Bath) but to use it as a tool to help them navigate and find their own way through the process of creating a positive culture of public engagement.
Get your copy of the Field Guide
A printed copy of A Field Guide to Public Engagement and Culture Change is available to purchase for £10 (covering admin, postage and packaging) from the University of Bath store. Please do get in touch with us if you have any questions.
Alternatively a free digital version of A Field Guide to Public Engagement and Culture Change is available to download.
We would love to hear what you think so please get in touch with us with your thoughts.
Dean Veall is Deputy Head of Public Engagement at the University of Bath