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How to engage

 The key to successful Public Engagement with Research activity is planning: it is important to think about why you want to engage and who you want to engage before deciding how you’re going to do it. Ideally public engagement should be thought about in parallel with the design of the research activity. The aim should be to prioritise those engagement activities that will enhance the quality or impact of the research.

The first question to think about when planning an activity is: Why do you want to engage the public? 

The three purposes of Public Engagement with Research are described as:

• to inform and inspire the public

• to consult and listen to public views

• to collaborate with the public

Is it to communicate the findings of your results to the public (to inform and inspire)? Or do you need to better understand public views relating to your research area (to consult)? Or is the aim to have members of the public participate in conducting the research (to collaborate)?

There is no intended hierarchy on engagement strategies - all are useful and valid in their own way and often an activity will contain a blend of these techniques and purposes. 

The second question to consider is: Who do you want to engage?

People differ in many ways, such as their interests, affiliations, background, age, economic circumstances, location and gender. Who you want to reach will depend on the nature of your research and the reasons for the engagement.

High-quality Public Engagement with Research activities have a clear and specific demographic in mind - rather than the ‘general public’. Target audiences can be mixed but it will be important to break down who is included within that group. For example, the target audience for an ‘inform and inspire’ activity could be parents and their children (15 years+) from Oxfordshire.

Once you have identified who want to engage, the best way of reaching out may be through a partnership with another organisation, that already works with or has access to your identified audience.

Once you've identified why and who, you can then think about the best format to engage in order to achieve your objectives and that is best suited to the target public participants or audiences. Some examples are provided below:

Informing/ InspiringConsultingCollaborating
TalksOpinion pollsCitizen Science
ExhibitionsAttitude researchParticipative research
PodcastsPublic dialoguesStakeholder dialogue
FilmsPublic debatesCitizen Jury
Education activitiesFocus groupsCo-production of knowledge
Social mediaSocial researchCommittee representation
Theatre/ the artsAdvisory CommitteePatient & Public Involvement

The final step of planning is to consider evaluation. When thinking about what you want to evaluate – as well as counting (people; downloads; views and other metrics) think about ways in which you can measure the impact of an activity i.e. by selecting a sample of the public participants and exploring whether a change has actually happened as a result of the activity. You should also reflect on the activity from your perspective as a researcher and think about asking other colleagues about their reflections. For example:

Inform & inspire activities: Did the public audiences change in any way – gain knowledge, change their attitudes, perceptions or behaviour?

Consulting: Did the public participants’ views and insight lead to a change on the researchers’ thinking in any way or help refine the research questions? 

Collaborating: In what ways did participation of the public lead to changes in how the research was conducted?