Public Engagement is another strand of your research…plan it accordingly!

Dr Yolanda Fernandez Diez


The 2013 Public Engagement (PE) Symposium celebrated at the University of Birmingham and organized by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) left a clear message: “UK landscape is changing and Public Engagement has an important role in this change”. With an attendance of more than 200 delegates from above 70 institutions all over UK including universities, museums, societies, observatories, research centres, etc., the symposium provided a unique setting to promote communication, understanding and networking in the field of Public Engagement. From Heriot-Watt University, and representing the Centre for Innovation in Carbon Capture and Storage (CICCS) and Beltane Public Engagement Network, Dr. Yolanda Fernandez Diez attended the event. Now, she shares the key aspects revealed.


How is UK landscape changing?


 1.The adoption of an impact agenda by UK Research Councils is putting Research and Higher Education under pressure. Only excellent research with demonstrable benefits to the wider economy and society will be able to receive funding. For more information click:

 2. The UK Government identifies STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) as a major priority at both school and HE level. The creation of a skilled STEM workforce is crucial to promote UK’s success. For more information click:

3. There is a recognised need for engagement, consultation, dialogue and debate around future research directions.

4. There is an appetite for co-produced research. For more information click:                                               STFC Strategic Plan for PE 2013-16,

  5. National expert centres now provide expert advice on PE such as:

– National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement (NCCPE):

– ScienceWise:


What is the role of Public Engagement?


 1. PE is designed to help researchers to identify, assess and show the impact of their research outside their organisations. In turn, this can also improve the quality of research and its impact by widening research horizons.

 2. PE creates opportunities to enable young people of all backgrounds and abilities to meet inspiring role models, understand real world applications of STEM subjects and experience hands-on STEM activities that motivate, inspire and bring learning and career opportunities to life.

3. For researchers at all levels, active public engagement can prove an inspirational learning curve. The rewards for individuals often follow from improved skills in communication, networking and influencing, leading to improved career opportunities. Also, innovative ways of reaching a wider range of audiences can open up fresh perspectives on research as well as enhancing the profile of a researcher, their work and their institution.


4. Public engagement enhances research so that it contributes positively to society and results in greater relevance, accountability and transparency.


What is Public Engagement?


 1. Public engagement describes the myriad ways in which the activity and benefits of higher education and research can be shared with the public. Engagement is by definition a two-way process, involving interaction and listening with the goal of generating mutual benefit.


2. Some key PE participants are… the general public, new audiences for diversity, teachers, young people and influencers of young people.


3. Some PE manifestations are… hands-on events, science festivals, working with a science centre or museum, popular publications, training opportunities, a project with a community or joining an existing partnership.


How to get involved in Public Engagement?


 1. You only need… knowledge, passion & enthusiasm, time, energy, funding, advice and support.


2. You need to think about when to do PE in your research cycle and how to do it at the different research stages, such as conception, proposal, initial research, intermediate research, final research and post project.


3. Start by asking within your own institution to… University outreach office, University public engagement office, University widening participation scheme and/or University press office.


4. You can apply for different types of funding such as… small awards, large awards, PE personal fellowships, training, media, communication, Royal Soc Summer Exhibitions and BSA media fellowships.


It is not about good PE, but the impact of good PE!


 1. WHO? Think about your target audience, who they are, what they know, where they learn, how they enjoy, etc. Has the engagement activity been tune to the interests of the audience? Has the audience a clearly identified need?


2. WHY? Is a clear purpose/rationale for engagement, which is clearly explained?


3. HOW? Are the techniques/methods appropriate to the purpose? Has the public had a meaningful and purposeful interaction with the research process/outputs? Have the contextual factors influencing the engagement and impact been identified?


4. WHEN? Is the engagement with the public at the appropriate point in the research cycle? Are the participants aware of what happens next? Is the engagement closure correctly managed?


5. WHAT IMPACT? Learn to identify and capture impact – your impact questions:

*        What is impact? What are the impacts?

*        How to measure impact? What data? How to sample?

*        How to collect and analyses data? What methods?

*        How to show reach, significance, strength and attribution?

*        How to generate and improve impact?

*        How to track impact? How to evaluate long-term impact?



This report includes a summary of the highlights of the presentation s given by:


Dr Robin Clegg. Head of Public Engagement STFC.

Andrew Cohen. Head of Science for BBC Productions.

Dr Penny Fidler, CEO. The UK Association for Science and Discovery Centres.

Bridget Holligan. Head of Learning, Science Oxford.

Dr Helen Featherstone. Public Engagement Project Manager, University of Exeter.

Prof. Iain Stewart. University of Plymouth.

Dr Trevor Wren. STFC.

Dr Neville Hollingworth. STFC.

Dr. Richard Holliman. Open University.

Dr Ceri Brenner. STFC.


Dr Yolanda Fernandez Diez is a research associate and a scientific communicator at the Centre for Innovation in Carbon Capture and Storage at Heriot Watt University in Edinburgh, UK. She is also a Beltane Fellow currently developing her own public engagement activities as a part of her Beltane Public Engagement Fellowship. Please, contact her at: