FAQ Public Engagement
Frequently asked questions regarding the Open Science track Public Engagement.
Public engagement encompasses the various ways in which the activity and benefits of (higher education and) research can be shared with society. It engages people whose lives may be affected or who are inspired by their research (general public), potential users or other stakeholders. Engagement is always a two-way process, involving interaction and listening, with the goal of generating mutual benefit.
The goals of public engagement can be:
- to make people more familiar with academic research, so they are better able to judge the value of it for their own lives and they are better able to make informed decisions
- enrich researchers with non-academic perspectives
- engage people with research aimed at solving societal problems, so the solutions are better aligned with societal priorities, needs and wishes
Public engagement is one way to achieve societal impact with academic research. Research and society are always connected. But to achieve impact, the university has to ensure that relationship is as open and democratic as possible. That is why it is necessary that academics and other members of society can find each other, get to know each other and understand each other. Public engagement helps with this.
Patient and public involvement (PPI) is a form of stakeholder engagement. It entails research being carried out ‘with’ or ‘by’ members of the public, rather than ‘to’, ‘about’ or ‘for’ them. These can be patients, potential patients, carers and people who use health and social care services or people who represent them. Public engagement encompasses the various ways in which the activity and benefits of (higher education and) research can be shared with the public in a two-way process. Engagement encourages researchers to listen and interact with the general public. Whereas patient and public involvement mostly focuses on a specific research project, , engagement can also mean connecting with the public to discuss how the process of building knowledge with academic research works.. Public engagement can also include opportunities for researchers to discuss their preliminary ideas for future studies or get people involved as contributors and conducting part of a research project as citizen scientists.
Citizen science does not just engage citizens with research, it also gives them an active role in academic research. Researchers appeal to citizens for an active contribution to their research, be it collecting data, transcribe manuscripts or map dialects. Giving citizens an active rol can contribute to mutual trust and understanding, see e.g. the article of KU Leuven: Citizen science versterkt de wetenschap (in Dutch).
Are you interested in giving citizens an active role in your research? Read tips from your colleagues.
‘The general public’ is made up of countless individuals, who all bring their own perspective and experiences. That is why we cannot really bundle all these individuals together in one public, and we prefer to speak of publics or audiences (see i.e. Who are the public?). Public engagement involves people whose lives may be affected or who are inspired by academic research, potential users or other stakeholders. The Centre for Science Communication and Culture focuses on individuals in a non-professional, non-expert role. The Open Science Programme complements that with a focus on societal partners/stakeholders.
Questions about the relationship Open Science - Public engagement
Open Science means to share the results and data of academic research and to make them useful, as well as giving people outside of academia a say in what research should be about. This is essential to keep the relationship between academia and society open and democratic. That is why it is necessary that academics and other members of society can find each other, get to know each other and understand each other. Public engagement helps with this.
The Public Engagement Fellows of the Open Science Programme form a network of UU employees (both academic and non-academic) who are jointly committed to making public engagement visible and strengthen public engagement as an academic task and as part of Open Science. They promote the exchange of knowledge and experience with public engagement across the boundaries of disciplines and faculties. A number of Public Engagement Fellows are members of the Faculty Open Science Team of the faculty to which they are affiliated.
To ensure an effective use of your time, energy and resources, it is advisable to reflect in advance on what you would like to achieve, with whom, why, and how. A useful tool can be these conversation steps. These steps help you to structure your plans so you will end up with a concrete idea for an engagement activity that suits your subjects, your audience and your talents. You can also contact one of the Public Engagement fellows, let your colleagues inspire you with their stories of engament, and develop your skills.
Public engagement succeeds when researcher as well as participants benefit from it. A prerequisite is that the researcher knows clearly what he or she wishes to achieve, with whom, and why. Next, it is important to measure in some way whether those goals were achieved with the public engagement activity.
Longer term impact is very difficult to measure, but you can show how your activity affected your audience. Madelijn Strick, associate Professor of Social and Behavioural Sciences, explains this in this video in which she reports on a trial at the Betweter Festival (in Dutch). Read about a few simple examples of impact measurement. Or check out the excellent Evaluation Toolkit of the Queen Mary University of London.
Organisational questions (how does the UU facilitate it)
All faculties have a communications department, and some faculties also have outreach officers or other support staff that can help you. Every faculty also has a Research Support Office that can help you with your questions about funding. The Utrecht University Fund has lots of expertise on cultural and other funders. The Centre for Science Communication and Culture has knowledge and expertise on organising activities with specific public, such as primary schools (Science Hub), younger adults (Studium Generale) or families (UMU).
CSC makes programs around academic research aimed at specific public, offers a stage, coaching, training and support with public engagement activities. These activities are aimed mostly on individuals in a non-professional role, but also on primary schools and teachers.