Public engagement by researchers: a ‘work in progress’

Kevin Burchell

Earlier this year, Kevin Burchell, Senior Research Fellow at Policy Studies Institute, was part of a team led by TNS-BMRB that conducted new research into the Factors Affecting Public Engagement by Researchers.

The objective of the research was to provide independent insight and evidence to support future UK planning and strategy for supporting researchers to engage with the public. Kevin wrote a literature review, supported the development of new quantitative and qualitative research and wrote the Executive Summary for the main report. The research was funded by a consortium of UK public funders of research, led by the Wellcome Trust.

The final reports from the research, as well as the literature review, were launched at the ENGAGE conference on Wednesday 2 December 2015.

Kevin’s headline conclusions from the research are:

The research “suggests that the embedding of public engagement in institutional cultures is best understood as a ‘work in progress’. There are positive indications in the project outputs that public engagement is increasingly part of the landscape of higher education and research institutions, and that participation in and value placed on public engagement has increased in recent years. At the same time, the research suggests that researchers and institutions remain uncertain about public engagement, within the context of a profession that is driven by research (and teaching). The project suggests that public engagement is more firmly embedded in the context of the arts, humanities and social sciences than it is among researchers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Institutional change of this kind is known to be highly challenging and higher education institutions are known to be relatively slow to change. Within this context, the project indicates that, while current strategies have been helpful, longer-term effort – perhaps targeted in particular domains – is required.”

The Consortium’s headline conclusions from the research are:

The research “shows that there has been a positive shift in researchers’ understanding and attitudes to public engagement over the last 10 years. This shift represents an important milestone on a longer journey of culture change for the research and higher education sectors, which remains a ‘work in progress’. The survey finds that researchers are now considerably more personally motivated in this area yet challenges remain. The findings also suggest that more needs to be done to support, reward and recognise researchers so as to embed public engagement as an integral part of a research career.”

Read on:

Kevin’s literature review is here.

The main report is here.

All of the project reports and outputs are available here.