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The annual Engage conference, organised by the National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement sees engagement professionals from across the country meet for two days to network, learn and collaborate. Last year the conference took place in Edinburgh at the end of November. We invited departmental staff or researchers involved with embedding public engagement with research (PER) to come along - expenses paid. Kiri Walden (Computer Sciences) went along and shares her thoughts about the event...

Thoughts in general:

It was great to be able to meet so many people working in similar roles to myself from universities around the UK and abroad. In practical terms I was able to see how other universities have used different methods to improve on or build PER activities. I have a much clearer idea of what we are doing well, and what we could do better.

The most useful things I learnt:

  • Research must be linked to society. Think about what questions people are seeking answers to. Create things for people, don’t create something then think about who might like to come.
  • Don’t think of public engagement as being like a transaction where you expect to get a clear return (for example schools outreach = more applications). Some engagement will have no clear ‘payback’ but might have more fuzzy impact based on slowly changing perceptions.
  • Build engagement into your research. Embed it in the curriculum.
  • Go out into the community – go to them, don’t always ask them to come to you. In Oxford our buildings are intimidating – we should use more non-university spaces.

Go to this event if…

  • You want to network with colleagues working in PER activities at other universities
  • Be inspired to think about new ways to engage with the public
  • Identify areas of PER which you are doing well, and those at which you could do better

And remember:

  • Make Oxford University more accessible
  • Make scientific research more accessible
  • Make real public opinion available to us by doing the above


The event will be back again later this year, so do keep your eyes peeled, and let us know if you're interested in professional development opportunities around public engagement, and to help embed PER in your department.