Why engage? | University of Oxford
A photograph of visitors taking part in a LiveFriday event at the Ashmolean Museum
Visitors taking part in a LiveFriday event at the Ashmolean Museum
Image Credit: Ian Wallman IWPhotographic.com

Why engage?

Public Engagement with Research describes the many ways that members of the public can be involved in the design, conduct and dissemination of research. High-quality engagement is a two-way process with the goal of generating mutual benefit between the public and researchers and ultimately enhancing the quality or impact of research. There are many benefits to engaging the public with research and engagement activities can take many different forms. The kind of activity undertaken will vary depending on the purpose of the engagement:

• To inform and inspire the public: Researchers informing and inspiring young people, adults and family audiences about their research. Possible techniques include: participation in festivals; talks and presentations; digital engagement.

• To consult and listen to public views: To better inform researchers on the public’s views and concerns about their research, and also an opportunity to hear fresh perspectives and insights. Possible techniques include: public debates; online consultations; panels and user-groups.

• To collaborate with the public: Whereby researchers and the public work together on particular projects or help define future research direction, policy or implementation of research outcomes. Possible techniques include: crowd-sourcing; citizen science; co-production of knowledge.

Public Engagement with Research can lead to significant benefits for everyone involved, including researchers and research students, their institutions, and the many different publics in society.

Some of the potential benefits for researchers include:

  • Greater research impact
  • Improved research quality
  • New research questions generated or fresh insights into research challenges
  • Increased accountability and transparency of research
  • Increased responsiveness of research to societal needs
  • The potential to build trust between research institutions and society
  • Increased visibility, both of the research and the researcher’s profile
  • Addressing increased public interest in research and raising awareness of the outputs arising from the funding of research
  • Developing new transferable skills, useful in employment and promotional prospects
  • It is important to funders, as well as the University, and opens up access to additional funding

The major funding bodies have an expectation that researchers engage with the public and many institutions are providing funds, incentives and guidance specifically aimed at helping researchers engage the public with their research.

For an example of some of the policies and funding schemes involved, take a look at Research Councils UK (RCUK) statement on its Pathways to impact requirements; the Wellcome Trust’s support for various public engagement activities; and the Research Excellence Framework (REF) – the latter is also detailed in the National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement's website and in the report Embedding Impact Analysis in Research. For more information about funding options for engagement activities, take a look at the funding section of the website.