Public engagement (PE) involves activities that bring researchers and the public together. It is more than just meeting an audience and telling them about your research - effective public engagement is about two-way communication, with the researchers listening to and learning from participants. Research Councils UK provide a comprehensive definition of public engagement.

Activities can range from engaging people with social science concepts through staging debates to involving key stakeholders in shaping research priorities and directions.

Done well, public engagement can build trust and understanding between the social science research community and a wide range of groups, from policymakers through to school children.

Public engagement can help you strengthen your research questions or improve the response rate to data collection methods. It can also build on and support the wider activities of your strategy.

In this section...

Top tips for public engagement

  • Be clear about why you are engaging with the public, both in your own mind and in your communication with potential participants. Do not raise unrealistic expectations amongst participants.
  • Allow enough time to plan public engagement thoroughly, whether it is a small, one-off event or a sustained programme.
  • When planning your public engagement strategy, consider who you wish to engage and why, their interests and why they might be interested in your research area. This will help you choose a suitable approach.
  • Consider your own preferred communication styles and skills in the area of public engagement. You activities will be far more successful if you are comfortable delivering them.
  • Developing an activity timeline or Gantt chart will help you manage the public engagement activity and identify potential pitfalls.
  • Think about your public engagement role as one that is ongoing - this will allow you to connect your activities, build your expertise and develop a rapport with the groups you are engaging with.
  • Build evaluation in at the start of the public engagement programme. Evaluating the experience or activity is the only way to learn what works.
  • Share your experiences of public engagement with your colleagues; if possible, make your evaluation reports publicly available so that others can benefit from your experiences.
  • Ensure you allocate enough money for public engagement activities when you apply to the ESRC for funding - too often plans remain vague at the time of application and insufficient funds are set aside for high quality activities.