When it comes to considering the versions of the public that will (and will not) be supported by a particular engagement initiative, there are choices you will inevitably need to make. To be public-centric these choices need to be negotiated and accounted for. The 3-D approach can support these choices in a variety of ways:
Planning and designing public-centric engagement activities
At the planning and design stage of your engagement activity there are at least three ways you can use the 3-D approach. Firstly, to think about how your initiative will be situated in the settings it will be working in; secondly, to reflect on your existing identifications and project-related commitments to the public; and, thirdly, to support an analysis of how your preferred engagement design compares to alternative designs.
In each case the 3-D approach calls on you to address the following questions:
- How will publics be targeted? How will publics be represented?
- What public roles will an engagement initiative support?
- What forms of public self-organisation will be offered?
By addressing these questions you can move through a process that prompts you to actively and systematically consider three key dimensions of what it means to be publicly engaged.
A long line of work already exists that encourages researchers to reflect on the specificities of their research situation, their social or public commitments and the assumptions that underpin their methodological choices. Used in conjunction with this work the questions above invite you to explore the versions of the public already being supported in your research setting. They can also be used to reflect on your own pre-existing identifications and project related commitments to particular versions of the public.
The 3-D approach can be valuable in one further way when you are planning your engagement initiative. It can help you identify how your ideas about how the public should be engaged may relate to those being supported elsewhere by other engagement initiatives.
In each of these three cases the 3-D approach will assist with the process of negotiating and making choices about the versions of the public that your engagement initiative will support.
To design public-centric forms of engagement these choices will need to be negotiated in critical, reflective and creative ways. Being public-centric also means being as open and transparent as possible about these design decisions and the thinking that underpins them.
Tracking, evaluating and accounting for public engagement in public-centric ways
The 3-D approach can also be useful when tracking and evaluating the public impacts of a given initiative and when it comes to generating a written account of an initiative’s public effects.
In terms of tracking and evaluating engagements public effects, you can use the 3-D approach to assess whether the versions of the public an engagement initiative has been set up to support have been elicited in practice. It can also be used to analyse and account for any unanticipated public effects an engagement activity may have had.
To undertake these public-centric forms of assessment, a similar set of questions will need to be addressed to those already introduced above:
- Is there evidence that the publics originally targeted have been engaged in practice? What forms of public representation have been realised?
- What evidence is there that the public has played the roles that have been offered?
- What forms of public self-organisation arose as a result of the engagement initiative? Are these similar or different from those that were originally planned for and anticipated?
The 3-D approach has emerged in response to some of the complications and challenges of the present. It provides a framework you can use to design, evaluate and report on your engagement work in public-centric ways. The approach is contextually responsive, theoretically informed and systematic. The 3-D approach is also pragmatic, as it isn’t obscured by any one pre-existing set of ideas about of what a public is or should be.
In contemporary conditions where meanings and qualities of the public are multiple and in flux the 3-D approach is therefore a resource; a resource you can use to support critical reflection and creative practice and to open out new horizons for public engagement with research.
[This post is an extract from ‘Designing public-centric forms of public engagement with research‘, a new pamphlet by Nick Mahony that will be published by the Open University soon]