Public engagement – who’s your audience

An excellent Hive seminar today with Sally Jane Norman and Winfried Hensinger – and an opportunity on Monday, 5th March to explore ideas further at the Hive discussion.

The current context for discussions about public engagement tends to focus on the REF and assessment of impact, but both Winfried and Sally Jane took a much broader framework.

Somewhat provocatively, Winfried asked if public engagement was a waste of time, a distraction from the real work of research, but then went on to demonstrate the benefits for all participants:

  • an article in a popular music magazine attracted students
  • speaking to different audiences developed communication skills – both the words used and the images and examples shown
  • it enables networking and learning from people from different disciplines and backgrounds

as well as justifying the value of what we are doing to government and non-governmental funders and decision makers.

Both Winfried and Sally Ann spoke of being transdisciplinary and enabling sharing and conversation between people with very different perspectives – art curators talking to IT specialists and disabled people about accessing cultural artefacts; using motion capture with volunteers on archeological digs – in both cases involving people in the research process and them in turn becoming ambassadors for the research.

Both presenters expressed concern about the ‘wow factor’ gaining centre stage – bangs and whistles and strictly come dancing attract attention – but aim is deep linkages and understanding of what we are doing and why.

So what does this say to us?

On Monday 5th March, we are meeting in the Hive between 1pm and 2pm to explore the public engagement agenda as it impacts on us as postgraduate researchers. Email researchhive@sussex.ac.uk if you are able to join in the Hive discussion. You may also want to continue the discussion by commenting on this blog.

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