Public engagement describes the many ways in which universities and their staff and students can connect and share their work with the public.
Done well, it generates mutual benefit, with all parties learning from each other through sharing knowledge, expertise and skills. In the process, it can build trust, understanding and collaboration, and increase the sector's relevance to, and impact on, civil society.
Universities are already involved in a huge amount of public engagement. A survey of 22,000 academics in 2009 revealed that over 35% were involved in some form of outreach activity. However, it is important that staff are supported and valued in carrying out this work. SFC, along with other UK funders, is a signatory to the Concordat for Engaging the Public with Research which sets out the expectations and responsibilities of research funders with respect to public engagement, to help embed public engagement in universities and research institutes.
The Concordat has four key principles:
- UK research organisations have a strategic commitment to public engagement;
- researchers are recognised and valued for their involvement with public engagement activities;
- researchers are enabled to participate in public engagement activities through appropriate training, support and opportunities; and
- the signatories and supporters of this Concordat will undertake regular reviews of their and the wider research sector's progress in fostering public engagement across the UK.
To take forward the development of public engagement in the sector, SFC, in partnership with RCUK, the Wellcome Trust and the other UK funding bodies have funded six Beacons for public engagement across the UK. The beacon in Scotland is the Edinburgh Beltane which aims to encourage citizen participation and understanding of areas of research relevant to public policy such as health and life sciences, energy and environment. It brings together researchers in medicine and the sciences and engineering with those in social sciences, arts and humanities. It aims to ensure that breakthroughs in technology, medicines and treatments, and that new discoveries about big issues such as global warming are described in a human context that relates to health and the environment we live in.
For further information:
'Knowledge Exchange between Academics and Business, Public and Third Sectors,' Maria Abreu, Vadim
Research Councils UK - www.rcuk.ac.uk/per/Pages/Concordat.aspx
Edinburgh Beltane - www.edinburghbeltane.net
Briefing note [PDF] prepared by Laura R. Meagher and Ann J. Kettle (Technology Development Group) as part of the learning review study which was undertaken alongside the ten public policy projects funded under SPIRIT in AY 2008-09.