Public engagement plays an important role in the contemporary UK academy, and is promoted through initiatives such as Beacons of Public Engagement and research grant ‘Pathways to Impact’. Relatively little is known, however, about academic experiences of such engagement activities. This study focuses on one staff group, contract researchers, to explore the perceived challenges and opportunities of public engagement. Qualitative and quantitative data—from a web-based survey and three focus groups—are used to show that, while engagement activities are often seen as rewarding, the challenges involved in participating in them are profound. While researchers report practical needs, such as for logistical support or communication training, key barriers relate to the conditions of contract research more generally, and specifically to job insecurity, transiency, and lack of autonomy.
The author:"..both public engagement and research staff sit somewhat uneasily within the dominant model of research as an essentially publication-focused, time-intensive activity—rather than, say, a process which incorporates public engagement, teaching, or commercial activities—both are marginalised. As the practical challenges to public engagement reported above attest, training in the skills necessary for public communication and increased funding and support for it are certainly important. What will ultimately be more influential in normalising public engagement in the manner that is currently being advocated, however, is a broadening of what—and who—is considered valuable within the academy."
Source:Higher EducationMay 2013Research staff and public engagement: a UK studySarah R. Davies