The 360° of Public Engagement

The 360° of Public Engagement

Throughout May, the Public Engagement, Communications, Knowledge Exchange and Commercialisation, and equality4success teams have held this year’s 360 Science seminars.  360 Science gives staff and PhD students from across the Institute an opportunity to hear some interesting perspectives from the wider scientific community and an insight into science careers “beyond the bench”.

Reflecting on this year’s talks, I was struck by how each had a useful message for those involved in public engagement.  Nestled within the talks were reminders of the variety of ways researchers can engage with the public; the importance of thinking carefully about your audience; and how crucial it is to reach out to people and places that have been historically overlooked.

The series kicked off with a talk from Dr Steve Scott, Public Engagement Lead at UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).  As well as looking back on his career so far in public engagement, Steve set out an overview of the UKRI vision for public engagement going forward.  One point Steve highlighted was the importance of engaging with under-represented communities and places.  As someone who previously worked in university widening participation, this really resonated with me, and is something that the Public Engagement team has at the forefront of our minds when designing new initiatives.

Next up was Dr Daisy Shu, a postdoctoral researcher at Harvard Medical School.  Daisy’s talk covered the basics of using social media as a researcher.  This got me thinking about the myriad ways in which researchers can engage with the public: from science festivals, to citizen science projects, to science TikTok.  With public engagement, there really is something for everyone.  I also appreciated Daisy’s encouragement to try new things and get involved, even if something is unfamiliar.  Gaining practical experience is one of the best ways to learn and develop new skills.

Dr Mike Murray is the Royal Society Entrepreneur in Residence in the Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health at the University of Sheffield.  His seminar focused on his expertise in business management and commercialisation of intellectual assets.  One of Mike’s key points when considering whether a product or idea has commercial potential was to “consider the market”.  For me, this is analogous to the need in public engagement to “know your audience” – what do they already know about the topic you want to engage them with?  How can you make the subject relatable to their lived experiences?  Are you answering the questions they want answered, and are you actively involving your audience in a way which is accessible for them?

Finally, Dr Laura Norton, Senior Programme Manager in Inclusion and Diversity at the Royal Society of Chemistry, spoke about her career in improving equality, diversity and inclusion in science.  Mentoring and supporting individuals at an early stage in their scientific journey is one way we can make science careers more accessible; the Institute’s Research Access Programme aims to do just this.  The importance of building a diverse and inclusive scientific community brings us full circle back to considering who has a seat at the table when it comes to scientific research, and whose voices we still need to be more receptive to.

Events such as 360 Science offer a great opportunity to hear from experts with a variety of backgrounds and perspectives.  We are all always learning from good practice and striving to make our public engagement work reflective of the whole sector.