Learning more about Public Engagement

Learning more about Public Engagement

Learning more about Public Engagement

I started working in one of the laboratories at the Babraham Institute as part of a research team investigating animal welfare, behaviour and brain function. There was considerable public interest in the group’s research over a period of several years, so I gained a lot of experience in talking to non-scientists at national events such as the Royal Agricultural Show and the British Association for Science Conference. This eventually led me to leave the bench and move into Public Engagement.

As part of that team I now coordinate outreach events both on and off the Babraham Research Campus and encourage our scientists and facilities staff to share their enthusiasm for science. I have particular responsibility for building and maintaining relationships with primary and secondary schools, including organising our annual School’s Day, which involves around 150 secondary and sixth-form students working on lab-based projects with Babraham Institute scientists as well as companies on the Babraham Research Campus.

Although I’ve been working in outreach for over ten years, my first public engagement conference was in 2014. There were two days of workshops, discussion and lectures and I co-presented a poster describing outreach events we have coordinated here at the Babraham Institute. The conference was organised by the National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement (NCCPE) which was established in 2008 as part of the Beacons for Public Engagement Initiative and is funded by the four UK Funding Councils, Research Councils UK and the Wellcome Trust.

I then successfully applied to join the new Public Engagement Academy, also run by the NCCPE. In May 2015 I found myself in Bristol for the first of three Academy sessions, in the company of 25 other public engagement professionals from universities and institutions from across the United Kingdom.

It was very enjoyable to have time to step back from actual outreach activities and look at the fundamentals of successful public engagement, structured around the themes of the purposes, processes and people. An inspiring line up of organisers, mentors and speakers led us through planning, funding and evaluation, as well as how to develop a successful public engagement strategy and so much more.

It was great to meet other engagement professionals, to exchange ideas and advice, and to see how other institutions engage with their staff as well as their external audiences. In addition to formal lectures and workshops, the Academy also gave us space to work in smaller groups on smaller, more specific issues, and those mentor-led groups also worked together by group Skype calls in between the Academy sessions.

Having found the academy to be so useful, I teamed up with one of the other delegates to share our experiences of the Academy at the ENGAGE Conference in 2015. Dr Charlotte Haigh (Academic Lead for Public Engagement at the University of Leeds) shared my enthusiasm for the Academy and together we delivered a workshop and presented a poster, both of which received a lot of interest, including from the Academy organisers! We were joined at the poster session by several of the other Academy delegates - as pictured above.

As a result of this I was invited to act as a mentor at one of the Academy sessions in 2016, and to deliver a workshop on ‘Dealing with Controversial Issues’. This was based on my experience of events such as our long-running Ethics Workshops and the 2016 Technasium project. I found the 2016 Academy delegates to be just as friendly and enthusiastic as those in the 2015 Academy, and am now working with the NCCPE to explore ways in which we can maintain the network and friendships we have developed and to share them with successive Academies.