This UK’s National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement (NCCPE)’s Engage conference is now in its 8th year, this year it took place on Thursday 29th and Friday 30th November. The conference has previously taken place in NCCPE’s home city of Bristol, but this year the team ventured north, inviting an incredible line up of researchers, public engagement professionals, funders, and leaders from universities, third sector organisations and industry, from around the world to Edinburgh to discuss topics related to the theme ‘facing the future’.
HSRU’s Dr Heidi Gardner is a Research Assistant and member of HSRU’s public engagement group, so she headed to the conference last week to gather information to inform further development of our public engagement events going forward.
The conference opened with a thought-provoking plenary featuring talks from Ruth Gill and Xerxes Mazda from the National Museums of Scotland, and Rajesh Tandon, chair of Participatory Research in Asia (PRIA), and co-UNESCO Chair for Community-based Research and Social Responsibility in Higher Education. The trio of talks encouraged conference attendees to think differently about engagement, with Ruth Gill and Xerxes Mazda explaining that the need to learn is no longer biological, but philosophical, and therefore we need to focus on tapping into emotional responses and the prospect of escapism for audiences, rather than purely educational results to ensure effective engagement with our research. Rajesh Tandon gave an inspirational and motivating talk about his experience working with PRIA to empower excluded members of the community through capacity building, knowledge building and policy advocacy.
These themes were echoed by a range of speakers sharing their experiences throughout various plenaries, workshops, thinking spaces and panels over the course of the two day event, with the final session, ‘Transforming engagement’, ending on a high with discussion between best-selling Scottish crime writer Val McDermid, and Professor Niamh Nic Daéid from the Leverhulme Research Centre for Forensic Science at the University of Dundee. Val and Niamh have worked together on online courses, books, science festivals and events over the last decade, and encouraged researchers to make ‘unexpected friendships’ with writers and creative types to strengthen the way that both parties think about research.
After attending her first Engage conference and returning to HSRU with new ideas and enthusiasm, Heidi said, “What a fantastic conference! I learned so much about ways to develop engagement methods and I’m excited to implement these learnings to our own public engagement activities and events at HSRU. I left Edinburgh after the conference feeling incredibly motivated and driven to further develop our engagement events so that we can share our work with more people. My personal highlight was a talk by Nike Jonah from partnership enterprise Connecting Dots. Nike explained the idea of standpoint theory, and encouraged the audience to work hard to see from the perspectives of others in society to ensure that engagement activities are open and accessible to all.”