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A run-through the key points of The PER Lab programme

Participants present their project plan pitch to a panel and their fellow PER Lab participants © Emily Scott-Dearing

The Public Engagement Lab was a facilitated process to challenge new ways of working through supporting researchers and Gardens Libraries and Museums (GLAM) to create collaborative, high quality and novel public engagement with research (PER) projects. The programme took place between late 2018 and early 2020.

The programme trained a cohort of researchers and GLAM staff, resulting in four funded projects that that delivered meaningful engagement across a number of targeted audiences, and provided the opportunity for participants to develop their skills and experience of PER.

The audiences included teenagers writing short science fiction stories, and another project where teenagers explored and presented climate science. Another brought together people with and caring for those with mobility disorders with researchers and artists, and another took science out to under-served audiences in Oxfordshire.

The programme delivered:

  • 3 training and ideation sandpits (10 researchers and 9 GLAM staff)
  • 2 social and networking opportunities for participants
  • 1 interim (delivery) networking and training opportunity for participants
  • A guide and support for undertaking evaluation
  • 4 funded PER projects (outputs listed for each project below)

Many of the funded projects also included their own elements of training for additional researchers taking part.

  • A total of 31 researchers were engaged
  • A total of 20 GLAM staff/volunteers were engaged
  • A further 8 support staff were engaged
  • A total of 342 member of public directly engaged, and total 1,465 members of the public were reached (exc digital)

The funded projects achieved a number of impacts, including raising awareness of research amongst participants, but also generated a sense of agency, confidence and empowered individuals to contribute their voices to discussions and debates. Researchers and GLAM staff were challenged to work in new ways, gained a range of skills and understanding, and many are continuing on their engagement journeys, some researchers having gained new perspectives on their research.

A key take-away from undertaking this programme was that you will get out what you put in, and in-depth engagement and collaboration requires considerably more time and resource than non-tailored approaches to create engagement opportunities that go further than one-off skin-deep experiences and build relationships. Additionally, there is a need to provide not just public engagement training, but support for researchers and teams to, for example, develop their project management skills. Overall, this investment is matched in terms of the value of the experiences – both for the publics and the researchers. 

So what's next?

As part of developing the new programme for local engagement, we are looking to embed this approach into training and support that is clearly linked with supported opportunities to engage.