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Published: 11 December 2013

Surrey researcher presents poster at Engage! Conference

Dr Nicola Rolfe presents poster revealing results of public engagement survey at NCCPE’s Engage! Conference.

The Engage! Conference, organised by the National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement (NCCPE), was held on 27 to 28 November in Bristol, bringing together around 250 delegates to discuss one of the hottest topics in Higher Education.

Surrey’s Public Engagement Ambassador (PEA) Dr Rolfe was one of only 20 delegates selected to present a poster at the conference, which focused on the findings of her survey on ‘engaging with university policy on public engagement’.

In order to build a picture of universities’ policy and practice on public engagement, Dr Rolfe approached public engagement ambassadors at universities across the UK and asked them how successfully their university was achieving public engagement, using the metric of university policy.

Over half of the 37 respondents reported that their universities had, or were developing, some form of university policy. Nearly two-thirds had been involved in the policy creation process to some extent. Of the universities that had a policy, they also felt that the policy was well-matched by the level of public engagement practice in their university.

The audience at the two-day Engage! Conference was made up of a wide range of people involved in public engagement, including university Vice-Chancellors, public engagement officers from research councils, academics and other university staff, and representatives from public engagement initiatives.

Outlining the challenges of achieving public engagement in engineering and physical sciences, Dr Rolfe commented: “True public engagement – defined by research that is informed, consulted over or collaborated with the public – is less likely in these subjects by their very nature. At the same time, the public currently perceive biological sciences and medicine to have the biggest impact on their daily lives, which is far from true.

“However in order to generate an improved public attitude to spending on research, it’s important that people are made aware of how much these sciences affect their daily lives.

“At the University of Surrey we have a great figurehead for public engagement in Professor Jim Al-Khalili, and many of our academics are really passionate about engaging with the public through a number of different initiatives. Surrey is a signatory on the NCCPE’s Manifesto for Public Engagement, and we’re hosting the British Science Association’s Science Communication Conference in 2014 – which demonstrates that we are definitely on the right track when it comes to public engagement.”

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