959   Roundtable discussion

Journeys of Engagement: When do scientists take ownership of public engagement?

Over the years there have been multiple initiatives to encourage researchers from all disciplines to embed public engagement in their work. In the UK and Europe, research funders have been instrumental in this, through impact and engagement expectations on grants and how research outcomes are measured. However what is this actually meaning for the individual scientists and researchers at the 'coal face'? How do researchers currently feel about public engagement, while being expected to publish, attract funds and develop peer-respect in an ever more competitive research envrionment? The past decade has seen interventions aimed at aligning these factors, turning challenges into opportunities, but what realistically are the "journeys" needed for individual researchers and teams?  

We have been exploring and comparing these issues within the considerable researcher communities of four major establishments - the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (based in Heidelberg, Germany with institutes across Europe), the Wellcome Genome Campus in Cambridgeshire, UK (home of the Wellcome Sanger Institute), the ADAPT Research Centre in Ireland (comprising Trinity College Dublin, Dublin City University, University College Dublin and Dublin Institute of Technology) and the University of Malta. We have surveyed the motivations and views of researcher communities around taking ownership of public engagement. In our chaired roundtable, we will first present comparative data from researcher communities to seed discussions of the success (or otherwise) of support interventions - including career incentives, training, impact and leverage of funding. We will explore what sort of institutional and external support measures enable successful journeys with public engagement, such that it can become 'normalised' as a beneficial and valued part of what researchers do.

Author: Kenneth Skeldon
Wellcome Genome Campus, United Kingdom

With 12 years' experience as a public engagement lead in institutions striving to support engagement and as a scientific researcher for 15 years prior to that, I can relate to the challenges from different sides. The idea of taking ownership of public engagement can mean different things to different people. For researchers, the meaning of research excellence can still be very 'traditional' - papers, funding, peer-reputation. Public engagement is undoubtedly seen as more important than in the past, but still often not an integrated 'part of the research process' - despite narratives from research councils and funders (thinking especially of UK and Europe). Case studies are often cited to encourage true, embedded PE, but while these can be useful, I'd say particularly for earlier career researchers, what's more important is a strong evidence base from the academic community, such that interventions and support respects and responds appropriately.

Speaker: Agnes Szmolenszky
European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL), Germany

The EMBL community is very diverse and the motivations for public engagement can be very varied. We're interested in the roles of professional communicators and other actors in sharing experience with our community and in how this interplays with the idea of an 'engaged researcher' where the type of PE can be quite different. How might this be helped, or otherwise, by the relationships developed between scientists and communicators? What is the current division of roles, and how do the two groups see their own roles - is there a need for change? How do scientists see science communication, and how might this impact on the journey they might go on?

Speaker: Emma Clarke
ADAPT Centre, Ireland

The Education and Public Engagement programme of the ADAPT Centre for Digital Content Technology aims to empower the Irish public to engage fully in our rapidly-evolving digital landscape and to foster an interest in, knowledge of, and appreciation for the emerging technologies driving change in digital media and technology. A direct link with Irish government funding as well as the pressing need to proactively identify and address emerging ethical issues faced with data storage and dissemination in the digital age, means that considering and incorporating the values of publics into the research in this field is no longer a nice thing to do, but a mandatory requirement. Surveys were conducted with the researchers in the centre on their views and attitudes towards Public Engagement. I will be sharing the results of these surveys, the challenges we face in embedding engaged research as part of the culture in this distributed research centre.

Speaker: Edward Duca
University of Malta, Malta

In Malta we performed an internal study to try and understand how to embed public engagement and Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) at the University of Malta in order to then improve societal engagement. How do researchers go about embedding this in their work and what policies and institutional practices need to be in place in order to empower them to do so. Our surveys have been to senior leaders as well as the wider university, including interviews with senior management and also some external stakeholders which are important to consider. The study helped identify which actions the University of Malta needs to take in order to develop the institutional culture and policies to facilitate journeys in public engagement and RRI. I will be showing the results of this study, but also highlighting the big challenges we needed to overcome to make this possible. Lessons that I feel will help others achieve similar changes in their own institutions.

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