Researchers still face many obstacles to engaging the public, including limited resources and the pressure to publish. But could the current lack of a shared framework for considering what the public in public engagement means be another important barrier to further developing a culture of publicly engaged research?
This question has been central to two research studies recently completed at the Open University and is addressed in the new Open University pamphlet ‘Designing public-centric forms of public engagement with research’, now available for free download, under a Creative Commons licence.
The pamphlet introduces a new framework that aims to capture key ways of making sense of the public in public engagement today. It also highlights questions you can ask at key stages of the engagement process to help you make choices about how you will engage. The public-centric approach is intended to support engaged scholars working across all disciplines.
The pamphlet is pragmatic and relates different pre-existing ways of making sense of the public. It encourages researchers to analyse the characteristics or motivations of ‘target groups’; consider the aspirations of fellow citizens and the societal role of the public; reflect on the relationships publics have with our public institutions and how these are cast and might change; and actively think about the forms of voluntary public self-organisation and innovation that engagement might support. The public is an expansive idea and this pamphlet offers a multi-dimensional approach, informed by developments in theory and practice.
Despite the many obstacles, public engagement with research undoubtedly has the potential to help support and foster public life in many ways. But questioning and being more systematic about what we mean by the public in public engagement can also raise big issues. I am therefore genuinely interested in your views on whether an approach like this could be valuable in your own setting and on whether having a shared framework for thinking about the public could be useful too?
So I look forward to your comments on the pamphlet and also to hearing more about how you see the role of the public in the years ahead in the development of academic research.
The pamphlet Designing public-centric forms of public engagement with research is one outcome of the Open University’s RCUK-funded Public Engagement with Research Catalyst, ‘An open research university‘. Nick was a Co-investigator on this project, leading the work package that explored the publics of engaged-research. This work also emerged from the Open University funded Creating Publics project, which was located in the OU’s Centre for Citizenship, Identities and Governance. Dr. Nick Mahony is now an independent researcher and visiting Research Fellow at the Open University (firstname.lastname@example.org).