MPLS Division's Strategic Plan for Public Engagement with Research
Our strategic plan focuses on demonstrating the value of PER, building capacity, particularly by supporting departments, and exploring where we can facilitate effective collaborations across the Division and with other partners.
Over the last few years, the Division has been working towards better understanding its role in nurturing a supportive culture where high quality public engagement with research (PER) can flourish as an integral part of research culture and practice. We are now sharing our strategic plan, which has a focus on demonstrating the value of PER, building capacity, particularly by supporting departments, and exploring where we can facilitate effective collaborations across the Division and with other partners.
You can read more about the Division’s PER journey here.
Public Engagement with Research (PER) refers to a wide range of ways of engaging members of the public with the design, conduct and dissemination of research.
To support and mobilise the wider University strategic plan for PER to “embed high-quality and innovative public engagement as an integral part of research culture and practice” within the Division’s context, ensure MPLS representation in wider initiatives, and uptake of opportunities.
The strategic plan focuses on three key objectives:
- Demonstrate the value of PER
- Build capacity for PER
- Facilitate effective collaborations to add value and innovate
OBJECTIVE 1– DEMONSTRATE THE VALUE OF PER
We have found that there is an overwhelmingly positive attitude towards public engagement with research, and its importance across a number of agendas, not least regarding Impact. However, the argument has not been won, and there are still questions over perceptions of what PER achieves, what constitutes effective, high-quality engagement, and concerns over how PER is valued.
- Demonstrate and support senior leadership to champion and advocate for the value of PER.
- Build a shared understanding of what PER is and its value to researchers and support staff.
- Share case studies that illuminate the benefits of PER.
- Reward and recognise excellent PER.
OBJECTIVE 2– BUILD CAPACITY FOR PER
We have found a mix of good practice and support for PER both from the Division and within MPLS departments. We recognise that the environment and context differs greatly from department to department and are therefore committed to helping departments explore their priorities and enable them develop in a way that makes sense for them. We also identified a number of missed opportunities, and the need to better support the use of evaluation and sharing of good practice.
Actions: In addition to continuing to deliver the established digital engagement and PER training programmes, the Division will:
- Support and encourage departments to explore how to build capacity for PER in their local context, including increasing opportunities for departmental staff to enhance and reinforce awareness, and the skills and confidence to support and deliver high quality PER.
- Increase utilisation and quality of Pathways to Impact (PtI) opportunities by research groups as one way to resource PER.
- Develop researcher and support staff skills to increase use and quality of evaluation and impact assessment.
- Increase awareness, and ability to make use, of broader approaches to PER.
OBJECTIVE 3– FACILITATE EFFECTIVE COLLABORATION TO ADD VALUE AND INNOVATE
We are lucky that there are a huge number of opportunities available to undertake PER; but this also creates a complex landscape, and not all of the opportunities that are available are necessarily used. We want to better understand and remove barriers where they exist, and look at ways we can work together. We want to make use of existing resource and good practice but also challenge and push ourselves. Innovation here means doing things we haven’t done before, “innovation is in the eye of the beholder”.
- Support participation of researchers and support staff in existing external PER opportunities (e.g., local science festivals), by raising awareness and removing barriers to participation.
- Increase engagement with the University's Gardens, Libraries and Museums (GLAM):
- Through targeted and transparent schemes that facilitate valuable partnerships with GLAM institutions, staff and researchers, e.g., the EPSRC IAA funded The Public Engagement Lab project.
- Through participation in RSL refurbishment development plans to ensure PER opportunities are capitalised on.
- Develop a shared programme for DPhil PER training across CDTs, etc., to ensure quality and consistency.
- Explore the provision for, and support coordinated programmes based on, PER by research themes, e.g., AI and Machine Learning.
- Explore opportunities for researchers, departments and Divisions to collaborate, e.g. through coordinated attendance and participation in events.
Many of these activities are now underway, but we also have a detailed implementation plan that prioritises additional activities over the next three years, and of course will be continuing our discussions within the Division, departments, and across the University to ensure we are able to act on opportunities and changing priorities.
The Division has actively supported public engagement with research (PER) for some time, particularly through the development and management of Oxford Sparks, a digital engagement programme, and a training programme.
Following the development of the University’s strategic plan for public engagement in late 2016 and the appointment of the first Divisional Public Engagement Champion (Prof David Pyle) in October 2017, it is timely for the Division to further solidify and demonstrate its commitment to public engagement by taking a more strategic approach.
There is general support across the Division for PER, with many examples of activity, but there are a number of areas where significant improvements can be made, including:
- Addressing the perception of the value of PER, leading to increased uptake of opportunities;
- Refocusing on quality over quantity;
- Exploring sustainable resourcing and capacity to enable excellent and well-considered PER at every level, from researcher to group, and from department to Division;
- Embedding planning and implementation of suitable evaluation and impact assessment of PER, and sharing of good practice;
- Broadening the range of PER that currently takes place (currently focused on Informing and Inspiring, with relatively little consideration or use of consultative or collaborative forms of engagement);
- Avoiding duplication of effort and missed opportunities whilst adding value.
These areas have been highlighted through a two year research and consultation process looking at: University-wide surveys exploring factors affecting public engagement with research; experiences across a range of PER and PER-support activities; a range of formal conversations with representatives across the 10 research departments within MPLS.
The Division’s Strategic Plan for PER seeks to address these areas.