I wasn’t going to post about the plenary sessions, but this presentation has just captured my imagination.
Michael John Gorman from Dublin Science Gallery
He has really innovative ideas and interactive methods of explaining research. It also creating research output from interactions in the gallery (Infectious exhibition 2009). They get their gallery community as well as researchers to submit ideas for exhibitions. The gallery is the mechanism for researchers to get particpants, make their projects accessible and really involve groups, audiences and researchers together in creating projects. Some projects have resulted in peer reviewed output (important for organisations that need this for registering their output).
Some projects worth looking at are Infection, Human Cheese*, and the speed dating projects they have worked on.
Our smaller discussion throws up issues of funding for this, it is cutting edge, who pays for the development, who pays for the researcher time…and with the opening of a second gallery in London, it throws up issues of only engaging with the privileged few in the capital. Do they charge their audiences? So many questions, but in an ideal world this is fantastic idea if it was implemented across the country.
*this is not a typo, you could smell cheese cultivated from celebrity belly button bacteria, bit not eat it, that would be gross.
My first workshop today is about how to engage researchers with public engagement. This one is a clear priority!
The group is smallish but we have representatives from “learned societies” (British ecological society as an example), universities and other organisations that use researchers in public engagement.
The National Academy of Engineers focus their engagement on the engineers themselves to that they have the skills and resources to engage with other audiences. They have been fostering this thinking for eight years and have been tracking the progress of engineers involved. They also work with festivals and PE practitioners on increasing their engineering content.
The Royal Society of Chemistry have a outreach team and programme which is slightly different from PE, so they focus on schools, students and the public but through talks, educations resources etc. Their PE team is new and is trying to expand on the outreach to include PE.
One of the point that came up was being able to publish off the back of the public engagement, this links into the Dublin Science Gallery, but it relies on PE being embedded into the thinking of the academic. We also discussed the confusion of what can be done, schools outreach, PE etc, and everyone is calling it something different. There is training on offer but it is from different organisations and if the academics are not aware that there is a range on offer, not always in their field, how do they find out about it.
We need some common definitions of public engagement, education and outreach and then throwing in formal and informal education into mix!
Cancer Research UK said they have issues with actually recording whether an academic have completed public engagement. They have a tick box, it is yes or no but doesn’t really explain what it is they have done and what outcomes. This is one of the issues with the terminology, is going to a conference public engagement? What about a public lecture?
Grant applications ask for public engagement and more and more the suggestion is a conference or paper as PE, they funding councils are starting to comment on the type of engagement proposed. This is going to become a big issue for academics! The funding councils will also give extra money for PE if the proposal is good. Evidence and evaluation will be required for it though. This can put off academics from applying for it. This might change and academics need to be aware that this could mean that without PE, funding proposals will be knocked back. Some universities have PE as part of their job descriptions for research and academic roles.
There is some discussion about post docs having to do PE “under the radar” as it is frowned upon as extra and unnecessary. This is to the detriment to the post docs as above, more institutions are looking at PE as part of the job description.
It needs to be made clear about the range of activities that constitute PE and that not every one involves direct contact with the public. More use of PE teams to facilitate this and provide training to academics and PE teams on what it actually is.
Eventually PE will become part of every day responsibilities. We need to address some of these issues now. Recognition of achievements at society and organisational level for PE is going to help encourage the importance of this.
There is a strategic business case for doing PE. If it is already in the business case then it may just need explaining and a more concise fashion.