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Public Engagement Projects: Some (Very!) Tentative Ideas…

December 18, 2010

During the afternoon of the first ASHPIT think tank, three groups of attendees discussed some ideas for Public Engagement ventures, the idea being that these might be able to be worked up into viable projects in the future. These ideas are summarised here, and we would welcome any comments, suggestions, or thoughts as to how (and indeed if) they could be implemented. Please note that these came out of only a fairly short period of discussion and are still very much at the ‘nascent’ stage of their development!

Project One: The first group discussed an idea for bringing HE research into primary schools. The key aims of the project were to help researchers learn to explain the complex ideas of their research in ways which made it accessible to a wider audience; to experiment with new ways of communicating research (in this case particularly via visual communication) to children; and to produce a reusable learning object (RLO) for primary schools.

The project was envisaged as running in competition format, with researchers competing for the opportunity to spend time with a graphic designer and/or illustrator in order to have their research (or an aspect of it) “translated” into a picture book to be made available in primary schools. To reach that goal, researchers would first attend workshops offering them training in audience development, public engagement, working with children, and advanced presentation skills. A group of 20 would then be invited to ‘pitch’ their research to a group of peers from within and beyond their own discipline, as well as any other members of University staff (including non-academic staff) who wished to attend. From that cohort of twenty, the five researchers whom the audience felt explained their research in the most accessible way should proceed to the next stage of the competition. At this stage, the researchers would be invited to produce or gather together any visual tools (posters/photographs, videos etc) which they felt would help make their pitch even clearer to an audience of children, and then re-deliver it to a group of primary school children and their teachers and parents. Again, the audience would decide which researcher had delivered the presentation which they found the most clear, interesting, and easy to understand. That researcher would be rewarded by working with a designer to turn their presentation into a picture-based story book to explain their research to primary school children.

Project Two: Group Two came up with an idea for a “masterclass” offering high-end training in public engagement to research staff and postgraduate research students. This training was to be offered to researchers who already had some interest in and experience of public engagement projects, so that it could pass over more basic skills training (for example in presentation skills or public speaking) and offer, instead, generic training and advice from a panel of expert practitioners of public engagement. This panel could be varied to allow for multiple iterations of the session, each with a slightly different focus in terms of the audience with whom participants hoped to connect. The group suggested that panelists might include (although not necessarily on the same panel): journalists, professionals from the museums and heritage sectors, National Trust staff involved with public engagement, academic publishers, specialist librarians, politicians and policy-makers, NGOs, representatives of community groups, and so on.

The group suggested that because they would all have some previous experience of public engagement, participants should bring with them some information about the projects with which they had previously been involved. This information should then be presented to and discussed with the rest of the groups as a means of incorporating elements of best practice sharing and peer-review and critiquing into the exercise.

The ‘legacies’ of the project would include the production of an Action Learning Set and development of networks both of research professionals interested in PE within HEIs, and of researchers and professionals from the external bodies represented on the panels. In addition, the group suggested that the masterclass sessions themselves could be filmed and made available online to produce another RLO.

The group noted that the NHS makes an apparently natural partner for some form of PE collaboration and suggested this as a starting point for the first masterclass.

Project Three: Group Three proposed a project combining training and practice in public engagement with a commitment to outreach work and ideas about social responsibility. They outlined a six-week project with the very broad theme of “Narratives”, involving collaboration between postgraduate researchers and the inmates of local prisons and/or youth offender institutions. Once contact had been made at an organisational level, participants would be matched up into pairs made up on one participant from the HEI and one from the participating penal institution. Together, these pairs should explore ideas about story-telling via a series of exercises designed to help them understand the different ways in which they both go about story-building. The group gave an example of an exercise in which both partners are asked to write about someone they’re both familiar with – perhaps a celebrity – and then to compare and contrast the writing they produce. Subsequent sessions could focus on different themes, such as each partner’s (probably very different) experiences of education.

The group wanted researchers to develop skills around areas such as communicating their ideas to different audiences and teaching in contexts other than HE, as well as gaining valuable insight into youth offenders’ experiences of learning, writing and living. They hoped that the young people with whom researchers were paired would enjoy the opportunity to think about some of those experiences in a new way, as well as to gain literacy skills. They also hoped that this sort of project would help make universities better ‘citizens’, although they recognised that there were a host of ethical and practical difficulties to overcome in implementing this type of project.



If you have comments about any of these ideas please feel free to post them here!

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