Sep 202011

Today I am, when possible, liveblogging from the Engaging Scotland event taking place at Dynamic Earth today. The event is arranged by Edinburgh Beltane Beacon for Public Engagement. As ever the usual caveats re: spelling and formatting apply.

Introduction from Professor Mary Bowne, Vice Principal, External Engagement, Director of the Edinburgh Beltane Beacon for Public Engagement.

Today is specifically on public engagement and the Beacons have been funded for three years by the Research Councils to establish a culture of public engagement across the range of partner organisations. We’ve been working with very diverse groups and they have very different ideas of public engagement – some think of the specific groups they are reaching out to, others think about the way they reach out – through media, through technology etc.

All public engagement can be important especially where collaboration occurs, achieving more together than we could alone. We want to transform the way that public engagement can transform the roles of individuals and to bring something back into academic practice.

Today we have “Sandpits” “Open Space” – ways to explore complex problems and issues and how to build quality engagement and then we have “workshops” which will encourage dialogue. Finally as we create this culture change we have found that there has to a natural leadership. Those people can be in any kind of role or level in the organisations but they tend to be leaders in their area so there will also be quite a bit on leadership as well.

As we go forward we want to do more and more. We had an event “Realising the potential of the University” and managed to get Heads of School of universities along to think about the Beacon. We also managed to get a meeting just after the Scottish Parliament formed again after the elections to talk about the role of the universities and the public.

To start the day Mary will be interviewing two people who are at the top of public engagement: Professor Tom Devine, Senior Research Professor in History and Director o the Scottis Centre of Diaspora Studies, and Professor Stuart Monro, Scientific Director of Our Dynamic Earth.

Tom £4.5 Million from Research Councils, he has also been voted onto all three public academies and you will see him on the TV regularly, he’s a real star of public engagement.

Stuart is Scientific Director of Our Dynamic Earth – so you are in his building! He has an illustrious


Why have Scottish scientists engaged with the public in the past?

TD) Really it began in the Age of Enlightenment in Scotland. Some o fthe leading figures were associated with universities but they also worked outside of the walls. In those days university professors had only a small stipend but made much of their money from people attending their courses – often not students but more something approximate to theatrical performance. The colleges of that time were very small so interface with the wider community was commonplace.

The other factor was the workers education movement of the early twentieth century. When I went to university in the 1960s only 4.5% of the cohort attended university. I detect a kind of hiatus between the 1980s until the late 1990s and perhaps early 2000s where there has been a gap in public engagement activity. In part, for good and bad, the Research Assessment Exercise which saw publication as a “valid” academic activity running alongside a substantial increase in general workload for academics. But there have been, for some practical reasons, a return to the culture of public engagement.

When I was Vice Principal at Strathclyde my secretary had a standing instruction was to not let the press name me.  I felt our students should be out there spreading the work of the institution but I underwent a conversion there as I understood the importance of the standing and reputation

In terms of the broad public engagement there is not an area that I do not enjoy working in whether media, publication – my latest book is an attempt to balance the work of the academy with accessibility to the public, and more recently I have been involved in the work of the Parliament. There’s a range of activity and I feel I have expertise in it.

The principal of Edinburgh University head hunted me from Aberdeen not neccasarily for my scholarship but for my public profile. The powers that be in the university like to see high profile and recognisable names/personal brand recognition for their institutions. They do not need to be the top fliers in their research area but they have to have validity


I’ve never had direct financial support for my activities but have done them in my own interests. I recall that AGP Taylor used to write letters to the papers to the horror of his Oxford colleagues

Have you had any training for public engagement?

If you’ve ever attempted to hold the attention of 350 students then you do need to have an element of theatricality in their work. What we do can give you, perhaps unconsciously, a training in this area. I have to say I much more enjoy now a public audience – these are often very intelligent audiences especially if they have paid to attend an event. I find the quality of engagement far greater than arcane and semi arid engagement within the community but really these are part and parcel of the same thing


Biggest barrier of all was my own snobbery when I was younger, a dedicated opposition to dealing with the media – that was long ago and I’ve gone to the opposite extreme.

SM) We are not too different – I regard myself as a historian too, only my history is embedded in rocks so it’s like history books where someone has ripped out half the pages.

If one looks around at what engages people generally. As you walk round town you engage with the landscape around you. At first that is a shallow engagement but it becomes deeper. We used to take students to a very dreich rainy fieldtrip and would try and buoy them up saying “we will change your life and you will never be able to look at a rock the same way”. And there was something to that – understanding how the world around us works really does change people lives and that is a goal we should have. Many people are doing that now and that’s really to be welcomed.

In your own field why is it important to engage with contemporary research?

It’s of fundamental importance because if you look at the fundamental issues in society today – climate change, availability of water, and availability of resources of all sorts – all that is underpinned by knowledge of how the world works. And that is underpinned by the fact that the world is on the move all the time – through uncomfortable things like earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanos etc. The eruption at ectoyackothorp was disruptive to much of the western world. Imagine what would happen is Holyrood Park’s volcano were to erupt again. These sorts of event effect economy, politics, climate etc. We need to lay out the challenges for the future – spend more time raising questions with our children rather than bullshitting about what we do know. What happens when the North pole becomes the south pole – scary and interesting challenges out there to be explored. We need to excite kids to take up those challenges and make the world a better place to live in.

Working in partnership in Scotland, especially as we are a small nation

Well let me start from a historical basis. When of my heroes is James Hutton. He came to Edinburgh University to study medicine, he did a lot of farming. He would never have considered himself a geologist. He was a polymath. The disciplinary structures and silos had not yet been constructed. We have to get out of silos of subject and organisation. We are a tiny nation but we do so much, there are hot spots of all sorts of activity. There are people wo are good at doing some research. There are some researchers I would never let anywhere near the public. But the enegagement between places like Our Dynamic Earth, which is a shop window for our science, and researchers for the public in increadibly important. We need to respect where people are coming from, and the knowledge they have, taking that and building upon that. Partnerships can really be valuable in the future in having an engaged community out there and basing our understanding on evidance.


Q1) You have talked about sharing and showing the science but there is a new move towards what should be done, what needs to be donw.

A1 – TD) We are a small nation but we have an increadible concentration of centres of excellence. My own department is ranked 16th in the whole world. A lot of our national resources are gone but we still have our intelligence, the Enlightenment was a time of burgeoning knowledge economy. We also have a dearth of media – quality, depth and volume is an issue in our press and media. The Herald is no longer of the quality was, The Scotsman is there but only really for the east of Scotland. Radio Scotland is a shame of the nation. This is the time for academics to speak out. We need to share the wealth of riches we hold within universities. There is a debate deficit out there but a huge appetite for debate. The amount of sold out events even at the Edinburgh International Book Festival for academics is notable – this is our time and we have a duty as publicly funded professionals to step up to that.

SM) There is a need for academics to lay their smoggesboard of riches from the universities before people. But we need to listen as well as talk. We need to know where information is acquired, to know what public attitudes are. In science there are controversial issues and a neccassity for dialogue. Particularly around GM crops and areas like that. There has been significant public debate and that is not didactic. Listening and dialogue allows people to understand and become more comfortable with new areas of science. Science moves so quickly.

TD) We should consciously seek out the controversy. Almost all the big issues you get when you do speak to the so called “non expert” audience – they often see the bigger issue that the focused scholar does not. In my presentation try to be provocative to encourage that response. That tradition of debate allowed a very frank and direct interchange but in an atmosphere of tolerance.

We have now moved over to the audience to write down our response to a statement:

“It’s 2020, Universities are engaged with Scottish communities, and you like what you see.”

What does the engagement look like? What internal systems are in place? What makes it easy to involve universities/researchers?

Our table thinks that engagement looks like…

  • from schools point of view it’s thinking about sharing cutting edge and interesting work. Right now schools are focused on passing exams but in the academic world it’s about doing things and it will be about cultivating skills as well as knowledge.
  • all university staff and students are involved in at least 2 or 3 public engagement activities every year, particularly with schools. Something very basic and involved.
  • the relevance of the knowledge is important, there is a perception from the public that the university does work that is not relevant to everyday lives. So taking the schools example we need our work to be relevant to their everyday life.
  • Some things are returned to the university from that process, communication is two way. A conversation takes place.
  • Opening the academy to schools… but not a recruitment task. Where is the boundary?
  • blurring of boundaries between formal and informal participation. Crowd sourcing, citizen science, etc.
  • Not focused on academic knowledge but on learning from and communicating with a broader group
  • Research should reflect societies needs, understanding what the audience needs from us
  • Lifelong learning that encourages connection of research to daily life, demonstrates relevance.
  • Inspiring questionning of the world in young people, the idea that learning is fun.

In terms of internal process

  • Recognition of the benefits of engagement, showing the benefits of subsequent collaboration
  • A shared internal understanding of engagement and internal engagement process
  • Shared vision of what is being done, why and how and shared responsibility for delivering that
  • Everyone has to value engagement but perhaps not everyone has to be engaged in engagement

So, over to the room…

Group 1: A two way process of engaging where the end user influences the process. A clear and transparant engagement strategy which also brings in skills and best practice for researchers involved. A common understanding of expectations; realistic timescales; reward and recognition (incentives for giving up research time).

Group 2: A big door marked “Welcome” – most universities are scary and intimidating and folk don’t know where to start, cut down jargon. Partipatory budgeting – 5% of university budgetting for engagement in new research budgets; get involved in governments delivery and desire for public engagement; researchers to be welcoming, friendly and passionate. Also losing the fear of losing our priviledges as academics.

Group 3: Our thoughts were in three thematic groups: partnership, participation, communication between researchers and local authorities, local museums, art galleries etc. Ethos – it should be done by people who are confident and passionate about their work but it also comes back to funders and enabling. And providing time, funds and recognition for researchers to be part of engagement.

Group 4: Embedded culture of engagement and normalising of this in the research agenda and for finding real world solutions.

Group 5: Public engagement must be seen as a positive thing and valued; funding available for public engagement; shared research as well as engagement by researchers.

Group 6: Much greater two way dialogue between the university and other communities for partnership and collaboration. An open feeling about finding out what is happening, to feed in thoughts and opinions but there will still be a need for some form of coordination and control as researchers may feel unable to complete their work if always entirely available to all.

Group 7: Public engagement should be part of the furniture and valued by all in the university as well as the community. Financial and cultural support and very much part of undergraduate experience. Government support cutting across different disciplines and different communities. And communities must also lead in public engagement.

Group 8: All around openness and accessibility of people and of knowledge – published knowledge and research outputs. Embedding engagement skills. And the role of engagement as part of teaching within the curriculum. Genuine buy in to the idea of public engagement.

Group 9: Public engagement are a normal part of the process, as much as research paper writing is. A core part of funding if not mandated then strongly encouraged. Getting younger academics and students and post grads involved. Rather than universities leading agenda for engagement, the community identifies priorities and projects.

Group 10 (that’s us): Most of what we’ve put down has already been said. We felt our starting point for engagement was understanding each other needs. Particularly for schools thinking about skills and attributes not just knowledge and information. Blurring of boundaries – valuing knowledge beyond the walls and public engagement should reflect that. Recognising that engagement is a core activity that supports the strategy and even if researchers are not doing engagement they support the activity as a community.

Group 11: Engagement would be a public debate. Needing training, supportive structures and support to enable this.

Group 12: Public engagement needs to be widely appreciated and expected by the wider public. Planning and evaluation of research includes public engagement. Reward and recognition for public engagement activities.

Group 13: We would like to see two way communication, and a higher profile of academics in the media. Public engagement to be recognised as part of the job. And to have mediators to enable public engagement. Universities to make researchers available to participate.

Tom Devine: Very interesting and very lucidly presented. This was mentioned as part of the list by one table but engagement has to be recognised explicitly and unambigously in career progression and I know that at least one university in Scotland is engaged with unions around this. And 20% of REF is on impact, many colleagues who have been sceptical about this activity before are now thinking about this and that pragmatic and practical issue is making a huge change. In my own school we are in the process of appointing a deputy director for public engagement and will sit on the management of the school. I am in the process of writing an impact case study, a collective case study for the REF. There is concern from colleagues about speaking to journalists especially if unfamiliar because of the possibility of distortion or misunderstanding for the material. We are having two high profile journalists coming into the school to examine this. My experience is that you cannot expect or assume that there will be a direct or comprehensive report of the interview, that just comes with the territory.

Stuart Monro: I agree that “Welcome” is fundamental to universities. Wandering around in the Fringe and seieng the university at the core of that was great – the fringe is a great model for public engagement. I would also support what Tom has said about the importance of recognition: research not talked about is research not done.

TD: Especially in senior professoriate and senior management!

And with that we have a break while the room is reorganised for the next session.

OK, we are back with Vox Coaching. Both of our leaders for this session have theatrical type backgrounds. We’ve started by trying to count to 3 in pairs, then “1” and a clap and “3”, then a stamp and a clap and “3”, and then a stamp and a clap and a “CRB checked type tap on the shoulder”. The lesson? That even the simplest communication is frought with difficulties.

Next up Vox run a Pinter scene through twice with different take on the same text each time. Observations? The non verbal communication. Also the tone and vocal style was very different. Also a reversal of roles in terms of status/dominance of roles. This is a classic actors trick to reverse status. We now discuss status: titles, contexts, physical spacing and movement. There is external status and there is an internal status that we can command and project but it is also given by others. And now we experiment with our internal status in changing situations – and an exercise discussing breakfast in a pair with a swapping of high (and trying keeping our head skill, our vocal level strong, and our gestures clear) and low status (closed introspective movements). And we now move onto a 1 to 10 range of status levels with the same “hello my name is… ” text. I think I’ll aim for 5 through 7 since 8, 9 and 10 are on the scary side… And indeed being at highest level is not necessarily desirable. You need appropriate status for the situation. We need status as a choice in any given situation as a way to navigate and negotiate conflict. As human beings we are good at reading the status being communicated – both that which they are presenting and their internal status underneath that. Actors use vocal tone to this end – and we’re having a whistle stop tour.

Reflective Voice – great for story telling, for engaging people we know. But it can be very irritating used too much, especially if you are trying to get information.

Relational Voice – a chatty voice, in command, status not bugging us, a chat with people we know, very two way voice.

Admonishing Voice – a very parental voice, useful at times, stops us getting into trouble or danger. But a complicated voice. You hear it inside your head undermining you. Slips into sarcasm quite easily.

Think about the voice that you are using, what’s appropriate to the situation. It’s about a mixture of voices according to the message that you put across.

Finally we will have a quick look at content of what you say and see the effect of simple “bread and butter sellotape words”. Avoid waffle, be clear and assertive, be higher status, location should not be a corridor! But don’t be over assertive. And now an experiment of being said “no” to.. or the British version “yes, but…”. A better approach would be “Yes, and…” a very energetic and productive approach and the start of the conversation, and a great response to “yes, but…”.

And after a short break and time for a very tasty brownie we are into our parallel sessions. I am attending “Public Engagement in Schools” which is one of the “Sandpit” sessions and it’s being led by Robin Andrews.

The focus will be on Scottish Schools as they are undergoing particular change right now. The idea of this being a sandpit is to build on things. Robin wants to also develop a workshop around Public Engagement in Schools in the future and today’s session will help form the agenda. Robin will give us his view of engaging in schools right now but it’s his view, he adds that it may be wrong… We will be sharing our own experiences, having some group discussions and see where we come to.

Robin did an undergraduate degree in Chemistry, then a PhD and lots of science communications work during that PhD and then was part of a scheme called Researchers in Residance. Robin then trained to be a teacher and qualified last July. He has worked in schools from the other side.. “game poacher turned keeper”. Because I have a science background I may slip into science but I’m interested in all aspects of public engagement. In schools it is important to remember that there are more than one audience in schools. Teachers are one audience, the kids are another audience.

This is a time of immense change. The Curriculum for Excellence which is a big cultural change as well as a curriculum change. There is a whole new suite of qualifications changes, particularly the appearance of the Scottish Baccalaureate. And we also need to bear in mind the impact of new Media (Glow, Social Media) – these kids are, to use a cliche, digital natives. There is no change like those of us who encountered email at university (for instance).

The Curriculum for Excellence means very different things to different people, there are different accents and priorities that can be put on the elements. But the core strands are about four “capacities” to assess against, that are success criteria:

  • Successful learners
  • Confident individuals
  • Responsible citizens – citizenship is a really important part of what Scottish schools are trying to do. Empowering people to do what they want to do, to change the world.
  • Effective contributions – how they communicate with each other, that ties to creating responsible citizens as well.

And then there are three strands that *all* teachers are now responsible for: Numeracy, Literacy, and Health & Wellbeing.That also means good use of language, finding academic voice, appropriate use of language, critical literacy etc.

For more info see:

There are opportunities for public engagement here:

  • Changes in Teaching and Learning
  • Interdisciplinary learning – getting away from siloed learning and the using of skills from one class in all the others. Universities really do work in an interdisciplinary way as part of our research.
  • Real World Relevance – this is a huge opportunity for public engagement.


One comment to point out that

Raising attainment. Encouraging students to take up or find opportunities to continue education. And ensuring that students have the skills they need for a career that will take in different roles/trades etc. and engendering flexible skills for life. Be realistic about time because although schools are open to working together we have lots of people knocking on our doors asking about this and we need sustainable projects that we know will bring results for any time invested. It’s about

New National Qualifications are coming in and the Scottish Baccalaureate came in in 2009 for S6 students, particularly the more able students. Currently only Science and Languages. Students study Advanced Highers and Highers and complete an interdiciplinary project.  The project requires outside innputs – and there are lots of universities doing this. Laura Grant from the Scottish SQA is in this group and she’s raising the profile of the programme. One of the key aims is for students to make connections outside of their learning centres and to make connections and links with the broader society. Our students have had huge support from the University sector. This ranges from quite formal partnerships which are already in existance. Abertay, Dundee COuncil and Dundee Secondary Schools are working to deliver the Baccalaureate. Each pupil attends the university half a day a week, have a supervisor there, and have access to the space and facilities there. This is a really beneficial relationship for the pupils as you can imagine.

UWS, at both Paisley and Ayre campuses, offer science pupils support in terms of expertise, facilities, tutorial work, and with generic skills development. They will also make their tutorials available online for other students. A lot of other universities are opening up facilities, online resources and expertise and providing one on one supervision. That’s helped the universities understand the Baccalaureate and provides pupils a way to bridge the school experience to onwards education, work, etc. We are hoping to bring in social sciences shortly. Our pupils have exceeded our expectations. The Bacc’s are providing a benchmark for teachers to see how the curriculum for excellence works and the type of skills developed.

So far in Science we had about 150 pupils at the end of the programme. We had more at the beginning of the programme but we suffer a bit with S6 mallaise – where university offers come in and students take their foot off the gas. We want to increase that but there is a finite number we can support given that this is aimed at more able pupils. So far we have 270 pupils with this year but we’ll have a better idea of the continuation and completion rate after February.

Most of the room have heard of the Baccalaureate. We are asking about the openness of teachers to supporting the programme. Teachers have the role as mentor or facilitator. They need support and a high level of teacher time but that role is different.

So… moving onto to New Media

Glow is the Scotland-wide intranet which enables:

  • Glow meet – enabling time pressed experts to engage with a wide group of people
  • Way of reaching a large audience
  • Slightly uncertain future – mixed level of enthusiasm from some local authorities, also a little change in the funding. But don’t let that put you off.

Also lots of opportunities to use new media to engage with Schools.

Andy, a geneticist working at the University of Edinburgh, who participated in I’m a Scientist, Get me Out of Here – a two week project with around 200 scientists. We were split into different zones but kids could ask us any question they liked like “how did science change you as a person”, “could you make cheese flavoured jelly”, “could I breed crocodiles in UK rivers?”. We did a lot of live chatting and answering online. It’s a really interesting way to engage with children. These kids grow up with social media. It enables asking of questions they might not ask in person. In week one we built up rapport with kids. In week two they started voting us out. We found Twitter really useful to deal with questions out of our field of expertise. I really enjoyed the experience (and came second) but it took over my life for two weeks!

Back to Robin: What’s very interesting here is that it really puts the students at the centre of the activity and encourages them to ask the questions they want to ask.

One other thing I didn’t mention is the Donaldson review of Teacher Education – there was a recommendation for career-long teacher education and this is important. We are used to thinking about PE in schools as being about kids but actually there are opportunities for Continuous Professional Development for teachers. Things move very quickly. We need to think about inspiring and refreshing teachers too.

So we are having group discussions in small groups and we will add our thoughts to each piece of paper then we will be moving around the room. Which probably means a liveblogging gap for a second.

I am starting on the training table… we think:

  • communication skills
  • where do you go to make connections with schools
  • how to be flexible with delivery
  • how do we fit into the curriculum

And now… onto opportunities:

  • research development
  • community engagement
  • Enthusiasm

What do schools want?

  • Off the shelf tools and resources – good quality, all levels
  • something that encourages potential/progression of students

What would improve PE in Schools:

  • Single points of contacts in universities – we’ve added that you also need national infrastructure for that work

What are universities wanting out of PE in Schools:

  • R.E.F.

And we are back…

  • Opportunites: key priority is that it is a two way process, helping schools with CPD.
  • Training: Effective communication skills
  • Priorities for University: Raise Awareness – of work, of courses, etc. – Robin notes that people do look down their nose on PE as recruitment but widening participation
  • Priorities for Schools: National infrstructure for supporting and connecting
  • What do teachers want: Something sustainable, low cost, and fitting well with the curriculum.

One final thing… finding ways to get access to schools can be challenging. How would that look? An email list, a wiki, a dating service??

And we are closing with an opportunity to sign up for those interested in planned schools work, and also some materials from the Research Councils and Universities Scotland. And a final bit of news: Researchers in Residance no longer exists but the Research Councils are looking for ways to replace that. Edinburgh Beltane are taking suggestions for good models for that kind of work so please do pass your suggestions onto them.

We’ve had a delicious lunch and now we are back…

I am in the Case Study: Beyond the usual subjects – involving different audiences. In this panel each person has brought along an object to illustrate public engagement.

The first panellist, a sign language and language expert has brought a decorative ball of interconnected wood branches – representing the drawing together.

The next panellist who works in forensic psychology around young offendershas brought money. Usually people would have to pay an external person or consultant to do the kind of research training and workshops she is starting to deliver.Anushka Miller works for the Scottish association of marine science – a former scientist turned full time science communicator. Quickly you can realise you hit the same kind of audiences so we are working with community grouos to arrange a community Festival of the Sea that don’t realise they are interested in science. My object is a plastic bag and people use these and don’t think about what they are made of – algae effectively – but also because of the importance of enviromental impact of throwing things away etc.

Susan Morrison is a stand up comedian and one of the comperes in Glasgow, Edinburgh and, as the Stand takes over the world, in Newcastle. She has been involved in helping set up BrightClub where researchers place their discipline Object is herself “as a woman of 52 it’s a long time since I’ve been objectified by anyone!”. I have 2 audiences effectively: the researchers and the audiences. It’s an incredibly exciting fun way to put research in front of people.

So Anushka you talked about knowing that you were reaching the same audiences each time. How do you know that.

Anushka: I live in a small community and you get used to the faces and what works and what doesn’t. I can give a talk on marine pollution that reaches maybe 15 people. A beach clean up may get more. But perhaps doing an event with the Guides will be much more successful. We worked with the whole region to learn about the sea from P1-P7 and we support the education, competitions, etc. that tie to that. We had a costume competition, we had dance, we had poetry performance, we had models made by younger students. This brings in kids – who are very open to new things, and to parent, grandparents etc. It helps the group link up to science as a non scary thing. This led to the Tourist Association and with the Council approaching me to help arrange events out of season.

SUsan this idea of knowing your audience, how does that work in stand up?

Susan: I don’t know my audience, this is one of the thrilling things I’ve found with the researchers. It’s about talking to people who know nothing about you. You can’t afford to miss a beat. There is research that says that in Glasgow you have 7 seconds to get your first laugh in stand up. You have to walk on and do something fast! The researchers are fantastic performers and incredibly engaging and the audience love it. Sometimes the audience is so interested they forget to laugh as they are still thinking.

Could comedy be a measure of research impact?

Graham, say a bit about knowing your audience and working with your audiences?

My primary focus has been on working with deaf people and it’s a fairly small local audience that I’ve grown to know quite well. The important thing to realise is that they bring a lot of knowledge to the table. In terms of sign language in deaf communities those people are the experts, my role is to facilitating for them to make sure that message reaches audiences of policy makers etc. Finding ways that don’t involve writing is a core focus for me. The standard example for deaf people is that the average reading age for a deaf school leaver is 8 years old, you need a reading age of 11 to read the Sun newspaper. There is a real challenge to communicate well with this audience, the use of video and sign language is crucial here, we use these channels differently. [cue a quick demo of thank you’s and my pleasures in sign language].


Cathy: It’s very difficult to find my audience. I started by Beltane Fellowship feeling quite confident about who I would engage with. But one of the downsides of social sciences is that groups and initiatives are very vulnerable to political and economic changes. A lot of the groups I wanted to engage with were no longer there or were not focused on the same sort of work anymore. I reached out vis the Edinburgh Volunter Centre and the University of Edinburgh Social Work Course. It was by being invited to a practitioner workshop that helped me find some of the right audiences. That change took place over a mere 9 months. The experience has been positive but you have to be able to adapt quickly. On the plus side I have spoken to many more people than originally intended.

The Fellowships let you apply for 1 day/week to work on public engagement. It buys out time/teaching time to enable you to engage with the public.

And now for us to have a think… an object to engaging with audiences. And with our questions we have to show our object!

Final question: do you have any examples in your practice of a fantastic idea from an audience that has spun out into something else?

Susan: I was working recently with a group of trade unionists, amongst them were a group of Upper Clyde Shipbuilders. On discovering that there was a huge archive of film and documentary evidance – brought in on the offchance – and that is now a huge project to capture the history. People can bring such unexpected things.

Anushka: The Oban area has 8000 people but 52 events in the end. Most events have come from the community and from cross connections made. Small communities have a lot of politics involved and as an academic organisation we try to keep away from that…

Susan: In addition to Beltane and stand up work I’m trying to set up Scottish History Festival. We’ve found fantastic historians and researchers but for some reason they are walled up. Great events go on but little dialogue. Politics is probably behind that but we are new so we can smash through that.

Anushka: the area has really been thinking about the identity of the area and how they think of Oban.

Cathy: Thinking about examples of chance encounters or contacts that have led to interesting things. My own interest in public engagement came from someone looking for storytelling and media. I used to teach evening classes at Glasgow University and in my audience was someone keen to get psychology more strongly in the media. By getting involved I got lots of ideas and contacts in and opportunities created.

Graham: This isn’t perhaps so unexpected. In 1994 the BBC an a beginners guide to sign language programme on television and they knew there would be interest beyond this. There was training at Durham University for 200 deaf people to train others. That was a huge shift, the deaf people were those with knowledge to share. It transformed perceptions. Lots and lots of hearing people took classes with these people. At one point British Sign Language was the second most popular evening class in the UK after first aid. And there was real knowledge transfer between hearing facilitators and deaf instructors. Another object I could have brought today would have been a book by Deborah Cameron and colleagues (she is now the Rupert Murdoch Chair at Oxford University) who, in 1992, looked at communication saying that we should, as academics we should work “on, for and with” the community. One of the “presets” here was that “If knowledge is worth having, it’s worth sharing.”.

Susan: One of the most foul mouthed comedians got a sign language interpretor in. A little old lady showed up as the interpretor but she was fantastic!

Chair: Some groups are suspicious of participating but it can be overcome. We have a responsibility to build capacity to participate with universities.

Graham: I think the important thing to to share our work in accessible and engaging ways.

Susan: BrightClub looks great, it’s undercover research and that’s why it will work so well!

Anushka: We can nurture ideas but not just our own, those of the community as well. Going out to a community makes a big difference too.

Cathy: You have to be where your audience are. It was near impossible to run sessions in universities – people don’t want to come into them. Go to where your audience are. Do your workshop etc. at their place of work.


Q1) For Anushka: You did this after 5 years? Could you have done this work earlier? (and my object is a midge net)

A1) Anushka: I think it took that long to build trust, to find your audience and understand them well. It took that long to make thsoe mistakes. But if I did it again I could do it a bit faster with my experience in hand and by working with someone local

Q2) Maybe we should not use engagement, instead use empowerment? The question is audiences – those that should interest most are those who are hardest to reach – like people who are trying to find ways to live on their cut benefits etc.

A2) Empowerment includes a lot of assumptions… who am I to say that people need to be empowered. It is important that all activity has mutual benefit, skills, etc. Empowerment as a word is troubling. Yes but also no…

Graham: I have used empowerment but I really like the term “knowledge exchange”. We’ve experimented with workshops on public policy around deaf people. The Scottish Government wanted to connect academia and government but we said that we needed the community to be the third component there.

Cathy: I work mainly with social workers working with young offenders. Coming to that qysion about whether we should get to very hard to reach audiences. I would like to and would like to do more and more of that. But my institution has told me to ease “unprofitable activity” and that really hampers public engagement. The appetite is there but it’s hard to accomodate that. And those audiences don’t have money to spend on paid for events.

Susan: I’m delighted this subjects have been raised. The language you use are problematic – it’s not audience or community but audiences and communities. A lot of engagement hits the BBC2 watching Guardian reading types. It’s so hard to reach beyond those people and getting to those hard to reach audiences.

Chair: I am from the East End of London and volunteered to teach young black kids who’d been excluded from school to learn science, maths and english. That sort of participation in the local community is great. We found in Manchester that many of us staff did not know how to find those communities but the cleaners and low paid roles around the space were part of those communities so one of our challenges and opportunities was to engage those people we knew and could build connections to those more marginal people.

Anushka: Remember that we’re people first. I don’t speak about what I do only when I’m paid. We have to be ambassadors for what we do all the time, it’s how you reach out to those other communities around you. We need to make it personal and personable. We need to be enthusiastic all the time where we live not just where we work.

Comment: One thing I find frustrating is that academics will say “oh it’s far too complicated to explain” and that’s rubbish – we all write 100 word abstracts. One thing about Scotland is that we live in a small area, we can talk of the Scottish village – there is real overlap of communities and colleagues. We are 2 or 3 degrees of separation where other places are more like 6 degrees of separation.

Q3) How do you build trust and knowledge?

A3) Graham: it’s difficult with sign language you have to repeat a cycle of education. Deaf kids are still not educated as well as they should be, deaf schools are shutting down. So there is an ongoing education process needed. The big issue for me is that governments are so short termist and getting long term policy change is problematic.

Susan: All I need for Bright Club is lots of willing volunteers.

Chair: Think about assets you have that are not money. People can be really resouceful about community partners and building those into your research proposals.

Anushka: I’m never quite sure what is meant by sustainability. Don’t want same thing over and over again. But I do want to generate interest in the community in science and the sea.

And with that slightly late running session I’ve hot footed next door to the “Evalation in a complex world” session led by Laura Grant. The idea is to introduce some models and approaches for understanding and evaluating public engagement activities and programmes.

That first question this morning about what success in 2020 looks like was a great starting point. We can have a fantastic questionnaire but they will only be useful if we know what success looks like.

See process from Theory-Driven Evaluations by Chen (1990) – this is, apparently, an *awesome* read. Chen talks about factors in a public engagement activity. so we have the activity, there is an intervening mechanism (in an implementation environment) toards an outcome. There if formative and summative evaluation here – see diagram.

For more complex programmes we can look at the Theory of Change “defines all the building blogs required to bring about a long-term goal” ( – this is a participatory approach, people need to be involved in the discussions. This is a great way to facilitate this sort of discussion.

Project Vision – what do we want to achieve – what are the long term outcomes here. And what needs to happen here.  For Edinburgh Beltane success looked like “A culture of Public Engagement is embedded in HEIs”. Four main outcomes required here: Stakeholders see PE as HEI role and demand/expect researcher involvement. All researcers are willing and able to engage, trong communities of researchers doing PE exist, Funders send strong message about public engagement being part of researchers roles, public engagement is supported, recognised and rewarded in HEIs. The diagram gets more and more complex at this point but it creates an evaluation framework.

Manchester Beacon evaluation support pack helps link practical evaluation with a theoretical framework. It also contains loads fo links to other useful evaluation resources. It’s been trialled through a number of projects before it was published. It’s a great resource that compliments the theoretical standpoint. (from: The slides will be going up on the website – you can grab a copy today.

So… “how much is enough” in terms of evaluation? It is a really tricky issue.

When is a public engagement project good value for money? This draws on the work of Diane Warburton, evaluator for the Sciencewise Expert Resouce Centre. This evaluation naturally focuses on benefits/value/impact but it can also be useful to conisder costs. She came up with six questions effectively.

  1. What was the basic budget?
  2. What were public participants’ and stakeholders perceptions of whether it was “money well spent”? This can be very revealing in interview schedules in particular.
  3. Could costs have been reduced without losing quality?
  4. Could a small additional investment have achieved significant extra benefits?
  5. What costs could be saved later by having had good public engagement? Are there good reasons why a program of engagement won’t work?
  6. What are the costs of engagement compared to overall programme budgets? “If you think dialogue is expensive, try conflict” – Andrew Acland (see further work on dialogue online).

So this is a qualitative approach to cost-benefit analysis.


Q1) re: how much is enough there is a tension here… money in evaluation is money away from engagement. How do we find that balance?

A1) Surely the answer is that as little as you can get away with. My time as a consultant is best spent helping you find what you will measure but your own team can do much of the day to day side of things.

Q2) In manchester we asked academia what their objectives for success was but we asked the public as well and that led to four further measures of success. How do you rule out assumptions about what people say they think success might be? And how to you modify what success is?

A2) In a full process of evaluation you would examine assumptions as well as the needs and requirements of users. In other theories from Theories of Change you can lookat other things – looking at boundary change for instance. It’s crucial to reflect on and try to protect against assumptions and bias.

Q3) How can you look at long term impact and culture change on a long term basis when your funding may be for a short term piece of work?

A3) A lot of this sort of work comes from the International Development community. Come out step by step though the goals… Another client I’ve used this approach with was the Royal Academy of Engineering and that included a long term tracking element as we had built in culture change as a long term outcome.

Q4) I work in student rather than public engagement. Can you put in place a long term evaluation process then also have a short term evaluation that can be delivered.

And now we have an interactive session. My group have kindly let us try the Theory of Change and backwards mapping for the GECO project.

Comments: Really easy to end up with loads of outputs and elements. Can be really complex and leave you with too many things to look at. But starting to map things out lets you try to make a change in one area only – if the other aspects are not realistics. It does take a time investment to do this.

The Cost Benefit Analysis group is quite a tricky approach – financial costs are much easier to measure than other costs.

Comment: Not a long way from a business planing process. In that we would look at best case and worst case scenarios – would you use those here?

Well not in the Theory of Change analysis but you would use it in planning around your work.

And with that we’re off to coffee!

And our final session:

Melanie Nesch, ESRC – We have moved away from why should we do public engagement and towards embedding public engagement

Sophie, Deputy Director for the NCCPE Beacons for Public Engagement – such a commonality in our vision for what an engaged scotland might be for 2020. I also got overly excited when that lady said that universities should have a huge welcome sign.

Computer Scientist, Assistant Dean at Edinburgh Napier University and responsible for Research and Innovation in quite a broad faculty. I am one of the people who needs to convinced. Perhaps I should be sitting in the audience. I have been funded by the European Union to do some public engagement. The one thing that we keep coming back to is funding. If public engagement is a core activity then it needs to be funded as such.

Ben Differ, Head of Science and Society division in Scottish Government. We support a number of initiatives to enable public engagement and to connect up organisations who could be working with one another. The National Spending Review coming up is important. A word used a lot today is partnership and in a time of reduced resources that is increasingly important. I’d like to see new audiences reached in new ways in new places. Graham Turner talked about talking to people where they go. Only some people come to a centre like this, most people go to shopping centres. I’m surprised no one has mentioned Catalyst the new call for the UK to fun Public Engagement.

Melanie: as the Beacons come to the end there were various discussions about what to do in the future. The Research Councils have been funding the beacons as have the Wellcome Trust. We wanted to embed public engagement in universities and the idea is for other universities that are not beacons to apply for funding. It is £100k each year for 3 years. You have to have received a certain amount of funding from research councils to be eligible for funding.

Chair: There will be an opportunity to listen to reflections from the Beacons in October. I’ve never felt so welcomed as when I come to Scotland – partly the warmth of the Edinburgh Beltane team and partly as I have a niece and nepher here. But how do we become and stay welcoming? What should we be doing into the future? Our groups should think about what could we be doing? what could Beltane be doing?

Our group says that funding, recognition and encouragement is crucial. Here’s the run round the route:

Table 1 (ours):

  • Funding and effective use of funding and cooperation
  • Finance groups in institutions should not block access to funds for public engagement materials which some of our group had experienced problems with.
  • Ringfencing of funding in research plans for public engagement
  • Awareness raising within institutions and across organisations

Table 2:

  • Who influences budgets available – routes to PE funding, government or funding council controlled?
  • Prepare a 2 page research briefing for MSPs, try to work out who provides that, what the format is, should it be timed strategically, who is responsible for that? Who is the best audience for that? Is it MSPs directly or is it their assistants and civil servants.

Table 3:

  • SHould not be a loss of the work already done by Edinburgh Beltane. Would be useful to have a post for 1 year to continue this on beyond end of funded period.
  • Training for presenting to the public
  • Embedding public engagement training into the curriculum of universities

Table 4:

  • We think we need more conversations
  • Culture change and policy making needs to be connected up to some extent. We need to get to grips with the decisions policy makers make.
  • What is the impact of engaging citizens in what we do?

Table 5:

  • Embed engagements fairly early – PhD students are fairly cheap so engage early stage researchers in PE early. Requires coordination, need people in departements responsible for this. Having a tiny bit of several people’s time is not enough

Table 6

  • At senior level it’s neccassary for a continuing cascade from the top at the level of the REF etc. towards public engagement.
  • Concern that things are getting better but with the Beacons ending and with the REF coming in could we find another hiatus. Could Beltane be able to give us places to be at to track progress in 5 or 10 years time

Table 7

  • Embed PE in job descriptions, review, progression etc.
  • Get PE build into funding requirements
  • Cross party group on PE for MSPs?

Table 8

  • PE not currently embedded, vulnerable, could even be contracting.
  • project teams and projects should embed PE from the outset.
  • Need capacity and expertise to support PE.

Table 9

  • Making universities more accessible – finding contacts – wikipedia not just websites
  • If parliament clearer on what they want from universities it would be easier to deliver that.

Table 10

  • Looking locally. Individuals can realise they are part of the community and can solicit questions about what their community wants.
  • For funders and MSP – funding aimed at the community for them to engage with us.

Chair: One of my concerns is that are we building capacity in universities to do stuff we want to do. One community member in Manchester said to us “live the changes you want to see in the world” to us.

Melanie, ESRC: We have reduced budgets so to be honest we won’t be making more money available. But that said some of the money is already ring fenced for public engagement – this is how the Catalyst programme has come to be. It is important that public engagement is that

Pathways to Impact that everyone has to submit in applying to funds. PE help[s enable KE etc. We try to enable people to embed PE. We are also trying to ensure there is training at postgraduate level.

Ben Differ: There tends to be a top down approach to what science is provided to the public. It would be productive and increase participation in PE to ask communities what they want. A colleague at the NMS talked about phone calls for curators and how that had to be dealt with and that made me think about requiring grantees to engage in some ways.

Edinburgh Napier University: We have great kit which includes public spaces like concert halls etc. We need to get core funding into PE. If SFC said they wanted 3% of funding to go into public engagement that would make a big difference.

Sophie: Loads of great ideas. The NCCPE are absolutely committed to supporting the goals of the BEacons and we have lots of resources to support that. We have two years of funding to deal with this transition. We also have a guide to finding other sources of funding and many PE activities are already fully funded.

Chair: The conversation continues basically. And we can talk more over drinks. Please do make use of the materials and contact info out there and thank you all for coming.

 September 20, 2011  Posted by at 10:05 am Events Attended, LiveBlogs Tagged with: , ,  No Responses »