Public Engagement

Public engagement encompasses a wide variety of interactions between the scientific community and the public. While a talk or lecture can be a great way of communicating the results of research the goal of public engagement is more interactive and reflexive. Engagement can come in many forms, for example, a public dialogue about a contentious scientific topic e.g. animal research, a citizen science project where researchers and citizens work on a research project together, or a blend of participatory arts and sciences.

Research projects, even on controversial topics, often do not consider the opinions of the public or the impact on society. This can lead to widespread misunderstanding of research fields e.g. GM crops, or to a feeling that science is not connected to the realities of peoples’ lives.

The European Commision is actively supportive of Public Engagement, stating that it 'leads to multiple benefits: it contributes to building a more scientifically literate society able to actively participate in and support democratic processes, and science and technology developments, it injects differing perspectives and creativity in research design and results, and it contributes to fostering more societally relevant and desirable research and innovation outcomes to help us tackle societal challenges'.

The RCUK (Research Councils UK) have created a pack of multiple case studies called ‘What’s in it for me?’ which show how different scientists have felt their work and career has directly benefited from public engagement activities.

Public engagement is the form in which science can directly connect with the public, this increases accessibility and the openness of science in society. Debates on ‘open science’ frequently focus on the public accessibility of the products of scientific and academic work. In contrast, public engagement is about ‘opening’ the ongoing work of science.

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