On Monday morning I set off at an obscenely early hour for the PCST Conference in Istanbul, Turkey. As ever, this was an opportunity to catch up with old friends, make new ones, and share learning in science communication and engagement.
But why leave home in the middle of the night? My early start was down to an invitation to run a workshop for postgraduate and early career researchers.
Due to unforeseen travel disruptions I didn’t make it on time. I’m therefore writing this post for anyone who missed the session.
The post includes an overview of the workshop I’d planned with links to a set of resources that can be used as a self-reflection activity to assess and evidence your skills and competencies in public engagement.
The theme of my workshop was support for researchers and practitioners in public engagement. This is a theme that I’ve been working on for a good while now (see below for a list of recent projects), with a view to promoting a progressive agenda for public engagement.
The aims of much of this work complement those of the PCST Network, to:
- improve the overall quality of science communication and engagement; and
- to see those planning, enacting and reflection on these excellent activities recognized and rewarded for their efforts.
Of course, these aims are not unique to PCST. They are apparent in a number of countries. In the UK they contribute to a wider agenda to embed the principles of engagement within cultures of academic research (Holliman, et al. 2015). As such, UK-based researchers are taking on new roles and responsibilities to meet the requirements of an expanded agenda for generating and evidencing social and economic impacts from research.
Within this UK context, culture change programmes have identified learning as an important driver of change.
Public engagement can bring great rewards – both for the university and for the public its staff and students engage with. But this mutual benefit can’t be taken for granted: it relies on real skill and expertise. Many staff and students recognise that they need help to develop these skills and aptitudes, and an institution that wants to support them effectively needs to take account of this.
(NCCPE, 2012: 3)
I had assumed that many of those attending the workshop would see communication and engagement as core to their career enhancement. Therefore, I had also assumed that it would be reasonable to ask postgraduate and early career science communication researchers attending the PCST Conference:
- What type of science communicator do you want to be?
- What skills and competencies do you consider to be essential to be a reflective scholar or practitioner of engaged research?
- How can you use public engagement skills and competencies to shape your future career?
My plan for the workshop was designed to complement the Researcher Development Framework, which was developed by Vitae (2010). You can view the slides I was planning to use, by selecting Workshop slides.
More specifically, I was planning to use the Public Engagement Lens developed by Vitae in collaboration with the NCCPE and Research Councils UK (Vitae/NCCPE, 2013) to identify and develop skills and competencies in two main areas:
- Public Engagement with Research: who are the end-users for your research; who could they be; how could you work with them in ways that are meaningful for your end-users; when should you engage with your end-users in the research cycle; through what methods; and how will you know the engagement was productive for the various participants?
- Public Communication of Science and Technology, for example: how do you best present your work in the public sphere to encourage end-users to work with you, and how can you create communities who connect with your research over time?
The Public Engagement Lens on the Researcher Development Framework maps core and advanced skills and competencies on to four domains. Of these, I’d planned to ask the workshop attendees to explore their experiences of Domains C (Research, governance and organization) and D (Engagement, influence and impact).
For each of the three sub-sections in these Domains (six in total) the aim was for the workshop attendees to list at least one piece of evidence based on their experiences of public engagement or science communication.
In the next challenge the workshop delegates were going to be asked to map their evidence on to a ‘dummy’ Person Specification.
In the final part of the activity workshop attendees would have swapped their evidence with a partner. The partner would then have assessed the evidence presented using the Person Specification Scoring Sheet.
The partners would have discussed key strengths and weaknesses in the evidence presented with a view to developing an action plan to address any obvious gaps.
Professional development is an important step in catalysing culture change in progressive ways, demonstrating to researchers and practitioners how, through effective engagement and communication, they can evidence a wide range of skills and competencies in job and promotion applications.
But professional development programmes are only part of the story. As PCST researchers and practitioners return home they need: ongoing support throughout annual cycles of workload management and mentoring; consistent recognition and reward of excellence, and therefore a shared understanding and application of measures of quality (Holliman, 2015).
Holliman, R., Adams, A., Blackman, T., Collins, T., Davies, G., Dibb, S., Grand, A., Holti, R., McKerlie, F., Mahony, N. and Wissenburg, A. (2015). An Open Research University: Final Report. The Open University: Milton Keynes. Available from: http://oro.open.ac.uk/44255 (accessed 26 April 2016).
Holliman, R. (2015). Valuing engaged research. Euroscientist Webzine, 4 November. Online. www.euroscientist.com/valuing-publicly-engaged-research (accessed 26 April 2016).
National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement (NCCPE) (2012). How to support Public Engagement: Enhancing learning from your public engagement. NCCPE: Bristol. Available from: www.publicengagement.ac.uk/sites/default/files/
publication/learning_resource_pack.pdf (accessed 26 April 2016).
Vitae/NCCPE (2013). Public engagement lens on the Vitae Researcher Development Framework. Vitae: Cambridge. Available from: www.vitae.ac.uk/vitae-publications/rdf-related/public-engagement-lens-on-the-vitae-researcher-development-framework-rdf-apr-2013.pdf (accessed 26 April 2016).
Vitae (2010). About the Vitae Researcher Development Framework. Vitae: Cambridge. Online. www.vitae.ac.uk/researchers-professional-development/about-the-vitae-researcher-development-framework (accessed 26 April 2016).
The planning for the professional development workshop discussed in this post draws on previous workshops developed and delivered by myself and Dr Clare Warren with support from a NERC Innovation Award (NE/L002493/1).
Where relevant I have also drawn on research findings and experiences from workshops funded through an award made as part of the RCUK Public Engagement with Research Catalysts (EP/J020087/1) and a further award made through the RCUK School University Partnership Initiative (EP/K027786/1).
I acknowledge the many contributors to these projects, including: Dr Trevor Collins, Dr Gareth Davies, Sophie Duncan, Dr Ann Grand, Paul Manners and Fiona McKerlie. I also acknowledge the contributions of the early-career and postgraduate researchers, the latter from the NERC-funded CENTA and Doctoral Training Programmes, who participated in earlier versions of this workshop and who helped to shape and improve these ideas.