Public Engagement: a brief guide for Diamond users
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As a facility with over 3,000 users every year, there is a vast range of exciting, valuable research under one roof here at Diamond which can enlighten, engage and inspire people of all ages and career stages.
There are many ways researchers can engage the public and communicate their work to a wider audience. These range from media opportunities to public lecture of to visiting a school or presenting at a science festival or event. We hope you find this guide a useful source of ideas and resources for your public engagement work.
For public engagement queries contact Laura Holland.
Engaging the public in your work has a range of benefits. It can increase your motivation and enthusiasm, give you a fresh perspective and new ideas, and increase public knowledge about your work. Being able to communicate your work in an accessible way can improve communication with industry, and improve your writing skills for grant applications, academic papers and presentations. The skills developed in learning to communicate your research will have a range of benefits not limited to the public engagement arena. For a comprehensive overview, see the Research Councils UK publication What’s in it for me? – the benefits of public engagement for researchers.
Research Council grants and the REF have an increasing focus on economic and social impact, including public engagement. Your own institution may well already have a dedicated outreach officer and resources either centrally or in your faculty or department.
The Research Councils, Wellcome Trust and other funders also strongly support public engagement, and have signed a concordat with a number of other partners which underlines their commitment.
Prof Gerd Materlik CBE FRS, CEO, Diamond Light Source
There is no right or wrong route to getting started in public engagement. You may come from an institution which rewards engagement and offers many local opportunities for training and events to participate in, or you may wish to initiate your own project.
Many researchers start by taking part in a small project, such as a talk for the public or working with a school by visiting a class. The STEM Ambassador scheme is an excellent starting point and can give you a range of potential activities to develop on your own or participate in. In planning your engagement activity, it is worth considering the following ‘game plan’.
Goals: What are your overall objectives and how will your engagement plan achieve these in specific and measurable ways?
Audiences: Who would you like to talk to, and why? Possible audiences could be teachers, school groups (usually defined by key stage), community groups, visitors to a festival, etc. The list is potentially very long, but identifying your audiences and thinking about their needs will help you work out the most appropriate methods of engagement.
Messages: What are the key points you would like to communicate? What would you like to learn from the project? Keep these clear when building your project, and revisit them again in your evaluation.
Media and mechanisms: How will you present your work? An illustrated lecture or powerpoint slides might be suitable for some audiences, but you might consider online tools, video, interactive objects or games, demonstrations, story-telling, drama and other creative communication techniques.
Evaluation: Did you meet your objectives, what worked well, what would you do differently and where do you take it from here?
Partners: You may not be able to do an entire project on your own. For instance, if you want to write a play, perhaps a local theatre/arts group would be able to help. You may also want to link up with larger events, e.g. an event at a science festival will have better publicity and probably a bigger audience than an event done in isolation. A partner group can also help you work on a project from start to finish, and ensure that your chosen method of communication is appropriate for your audience. This is especially important in situations where there may be ethical issues to discuss, or where safeguarding is relevant. Partnering with other academics groups, or facilities such as Diamond can also show how the research process works and how different groups work together.
As a Diamond user, you can take advantage of various resources and opportunities to take part in our communications and public engagement programmes.
Providing an audience
Diamond hosts regular open days, welcoming over 2,700 visitors and students annually. If you have an outreach activity or talk that you wanted to try out, we would be happy to consider including it in our programme and can also help with evaluation.
We also attend science festivals, for example in 2010/11 we took part in the Royal Society Summer Exhibition, Oxfordshire Science Festival and Big Bang Fair, and we are planning more for 2011/12. These can be a great way of honing your communication skills, and showcasing your work to the public. Details of festivals and open day opportunities, are here, or email Laura Holland.
Outreach through social media is an increasingly important means of reaching the public, and Diamond has a Twitter feed, YouTube channel, Tumblr blog and a regular podcast which has recorded over 65,000 downloads to date. To see our latest AV and social media resources visit our Media pages.
There are a range of animations, simulations and online resources available for download and presentations on our Education pages. We can also provide high resolution images and video to help illustrate your work. We are happy to provide support for festivals or other events at your institution, with content, stands, staff or literature - email Laura Holland.
We provide training, advice and communication for outreach activities. Our media team are happy to discuss disseminating your research to a wider audience through the press. We also work with STFC to support the Public Engagement Symposium for Facility Users, which brings together users to hear from key funders and support providers, and incorporates training and workshops on communicating science. Contact Sarah Bucknall or Silvana Westbury.
We can also host and support outreach projects initiated by users and stakeholders, as well as supporting grant applications. If you wish to discuss an idea or think you Diamond might be a venue for an event, please get in touch.
How you can help us
We are always keen to source good science stories and case studies for our communications and public engagement activities and online presentations. If you have interesting case studies or content we can link to or use on our site or publications, do let us know!
The list of resources below is not intended to be comprehensive, but contains a selection of sites and organisations who can offer assistance, ideas and inspiration for your outreach activities.
The best first port of call is probably your home institution. Most will have an outreach officer, usually one specifically for STEM (science, technology engineering and maths) subjects. They can give specific advice on the help available at your university, but the list below is general to all researchers.
STEMNET and STEM Ambassadors
This organisation seeks to provide enhancement and enrichment to the STEM curriculum in schools. This includes linking education providers with businesses and scientists/ engineers around the UK, and recruiting and training STEM Ambassadors. There are regional branches around the UK, which can provide training and register you as a STEM Ambassador.
Ambassadors are required to do at least one activity per year, which could range from going into a local school to giving a tour of your lab or helping at a science festival (helping at an Inside Diamond event may also count!). The STEMNET branch will also provide you with a free CRB check and provide you with insurance for your activities. See www.stemnet.org.uk for more information. The scheme is a great way of getting started in public engagement, as the local branches give lots of help in developing ideas and can put you in touch with local schools.
Beacons for Public Engagement
A scheme funded by HEFCE (Higher Education Funding Council for England), RCUK and the Wellcome Trust. The Beacons consist of six schemes running in universities around the country, coordinated by the National Centre for Public Engagement (NCPE) based in Bristol. This provides resources for all researchers (not just the ones in ‘beacon’ universities) and aims to embed public engagement in academic institutions, encouraging scientists to recognise the value of involving the public, and creating a culture which rewards good engagement work.
http://www.publicengagement.ac.uk is a lively website with resources for getting involved, and to encourage institutions to facilitate engagement. They have a series of really practical ‘how to’ guides, such as the booklet ‘The Engaging Researcher’.
RCUK coordinates and co-funds the Researchers in Residence programme, which enables researchers to carry out projects with schools. This provides training and assistance, including CRB checking and insurance, and requires the researcher to commit to a 24 hour project (these hours can be divided up in any reasonable way over the course of a school year).
RCUK also has a useful page with further information on public engagement, which has details of conferences, courses, funding and training opportunities.
The Wellcome Trust
The Wellcome Trust offers dedicated support to help researchers in biomedical and life sciences communicate their work directly, as well as supporting other organisations - http://www.wellcome.ac.uk/Education-resources/index.htm. They also directly fund a wide range of public engagement and arts activities - http://www.wellcome.ac.uk/Funding/Public-engagement/index.htm
Royal Society of Chemistry
The RSC has a programme of resources and practical ideas for teachers and researchers doing outreach in schools at http://www.rsc.org/Education
Society of Biology
The Society of Biology encourages public engagement through its publications, policy work, and other activities such as their annual Science Communication Awards.
Institute of Physics
The Institute’s physics in society programme aims to engage and inspire people of all ages about physics. The IoP can provide training and grants of up to £1000 through their Public Engagement Grant Scheme, which has two application intakes per year. They have also put together a collection of physics resources, which you can use for inspiration or contribute your own project.
Local events and organisations
An excellent way of getting involved in public engagement is to link up with events happening in your area such as science festivals, events at science centres or museums.
National Science Engineering Week, hosted by the British Science Association, holds events across the UK, and there are small grants available to organisers of events. The British Science Association is also a useful contact for events throughout the year, as it has regional branches who are a good source of local information.
You may also have a local science centre or museum which holds events you can get involved with. The Association for Science and Discovery Centres has a searchable map of science centres and www.culture24.org.uk has a list of venues and museums.