Champions for Public Engagement

This RCUK funed Catalyst project has now finished. The University continues to support public engagement activities, please contact  with any enquiries.

Round Three Public Engagement Champions

Ruth Garside

There are three parts to my role as Champion for Public Engagement:

1. Maintaining existing activity – facilitate ongoing Health and Environment Public Engagement Group (HEPE) meetings, allowing staff to get involved with PE in structured ways and continuing to assess the public’s interest in engagement.

2. Enhancing current activity – advising and informing activities that respond to staff requests and developing the HEPE website, including the development of a ‘jargon buster’ for health and environment research.

3. Promoting current activity and shared learning – organise seminar presentations for colleagues across the Cornwall campuses to present information about HEPE as a possible model for public engagement in research. Ruth will actively seek meetings with colleagues who are involved in PE; and seek to set up a network of those in Cornwall who can share experiences and support each other’s activities, and make PE in research more visible in Cornwall.

Kath Maguire

I will support Community Researchers who will have completed the ‘Raising Aspirations Programme Community Development’ course in Cornwall to plan how to address a gap in service provision they have identified. This will include helping them to:

  • identify their further research and information needs;
  • access support from other researchers with expertise in health and training willing to advise them on project development as well as credible and reliable sources of information;
  • access other student/staff volunteers willing to assist their project (e.g. by connecting this project with the work of the Penryn foodbank)
  • develop their engagement with evidence
  • evidence their work and to present it in local forums and university showcases as well as developing a presentation they could take to the NCCPE conference next year.

I will share with students and colleagues public involvement and engagement tools and techniques; community development practices and inclusive and accessible ways of working.

Jonathan Memel

As Champion for Public Engagement with Postgraduate Research, I will build upon my time as a Catalyst Seed Fund holder  to encourage more postgraduates in Exeter to pursue public engagement and to further support those that are already doing so. I will share best practice with colleagues in the postgraduate community and the Catalyst network, and will also act as a contact point for postgraduate public engagement through a variety of activities including:

  • ‘Drop In’ Public Engagement Sessions.
  • Focus Groups for sharing/reflecting on experiences.
  • Visible endorsement at postgraduate events.

Julie Whittaker

My research focuses on how business activity might be cultivated so that it supports rather than conflicts with the principles of sustainable development. I am seeking to establish a Circular Economy Business Forum, which will convene business people and representatives from business support organisations (E.g. local councils, Chambers of Commerce), along colleagues from various parts of the University, to discuss how we might work collaboratively.

As Champion for Public Engagement I will engage with Business School colleagues to seek their interest in participating in the co-creation workshops to give them not only the opportunity to share their expertise but also develop contacts with business that might enable their research.

Joanie Willett

I will spend my time as Champion for Public Engagement exploring the academic and public experiences of public engagement through the Creative Exchange programme. The Programme was funded through Catalyst’s Seed Funds and was delivered by the Environment and Sustainability Institute (ESI). It facilitated collaboration between artists and academics through ‘melting pot’ opportunities and provided funding for a number of small projects, including sustainable and ethical fashion, and beach waste and the marine environment.

I will conduct one-to-one interviews with the academics and artists involved with three of the Creative Exchange projects, and hold informal discussions with remaining project participants. I will also facilitate a seminar discussion group for all persons involved with the Catalyst Creative Exchange programme to talk about the internal learning that they got from the events, and what they would like to see in future public engagement projects. Analysis of this data will form the basis of a report considering the internal learning that can be gained from the Creative Exchange public engagement programme, how the ESI can shape University public engagement strategy, and how the ESI can be a beacon for public engagement with research.

Round Two Public Engagement Champions

Dr Fran Martin

I am part of the Re-Place research group in the Graduate School of Education, we have engaged with different ‘publics’ from the outset, embedding engagement in everything we do. This enables us to (a) work with public groups to identify research priorities, (b) be quickly responsive to calls for research that require collaboration with non-academic partners, (c) develop mutually beneficial ways of working that are based on ethical principles and avoid tokenism or exploitation of public groups for academic ends.

The most obvious ‘public’ for the Graduate School of Education is the school sector, through our Initial Teacher Education activity. The Re-Place group works with a wider range of public groups due to the nature of its work, which is applicable to all types and phases of education: formal, non-formal and informal. I would therefore like to take on the role of PE champion as a representative of the Re-Place research group and to involve the members of this group in collaborative activities during the year.These will include:

  1. Holding an initial scoping event for people within and beyond GSE to discuss the role of ‘culture’ in Public Engagement and the ways in which dialogue between disciplines and between academic and non-academic groups represents a form of intercultural learning (EDGE focus: people – staff, process – learning)
  2. Running two events bridging across the sciences and the social sciences, academia and education / community publics that explore concepts of interculturality & mutuality in the context of engagement over research priorities (EDGE focus: people – staff / public, process – learning).
  3. Developing some guidelines for working inter-culturally that can inform the university strategy for public engagement (EDGE focus: learning – building formal support for CPD).
I will be carrying out a great deal of public engagement around my own research. I have an anthology of First World War poetry being published by OUP this October. I am also organising the centenary conference on First World War poetry, which takes place in Oxford in September 2014. I have accepted an invitation to be Chair of the War Poets Association. And I am currently filming an hour-long documentary on Ivor Gurney, which will be broadcast (on BBC4 in the first instance) in 2014. I am also founding the Centre for Literature and Archives this summer, and there will be a major international story — based on the donation of a prominent writer’s archive — in the autumn.
Within the university, I would like to encourage public engagement by lobbying for it to be properly recognised in workloads. I want to encourage colleagues to take media training. I feel very strongly that voice coaching would benefit staff immensely, and I would push hard for the university to make it available as a benefit for lecturing as well as public engagement.

Dr Ewan Woodley and Dr Stewart Barr

We aim to develop and demonstrate the role teaching and learning practices can play in public engagement. We hope to achieve this through generating dialogue within and beyond the University of Exeter about the pedagogic strategies that can be deployed for creating greater knowledge exchange between the University and the community in which it is placed. In so doing,we aim to highlight the role teaching can play in engaging publics (individuals, businesses, public sector and voluntary organizations) in the University’s research.

We will be focus on four key areas of activity:

    1. An audit of public engagement practices will be undertaken within the discipline of Geography, as a case study of the different ways in which academic colleagues use pedagogy as an engagement tool and the impacts this has for both publics and academics.
    2. An initial workshop will be convened to present the findings from this work and to generate discussion initially amongst the University of Exeter academic community, adopting a collaborative and co-creative approach to the issue.
    3. A small set of interviews will be undertaken with non-academic participants who have engaged with the University’s teaching programme to ascertain their experiences and ideas for development. This piece of research will lead to…
    4. A workshop in which academics and publics are brought together to discuss and develop ideas for generating effective links between teaching and learning and the non-academic community.

Round One Public Engagement Champions
Caitlin DeSilvey

My time as a Champion will be focused on the importance of building, maintaining and growing relationships with partners and publics from outside the academy. I will share my own experience as a researcher who has embedded public engagement into her practice, and create opportunities for other academics to develop sustained and stimulating relationships with non-academic collaborators (both individuals and institutions). One aspect of my activity will be focused on reflective practice and communication; another element will focus on giving fellow academics the skills, confidence and support to enter into productive research relationships that engage diverse publics.

My activities as a Champion will be carried out through my leadership of two new initiatives on the Cornwall Campus, the ESI/RANE Creative Exchange programme and the Centre for Environmental Arts and Humanities. The Creative Exchange programme is a partnership between the Environment and Sustainability Institute (ESI) and University College Falmouth’s Research in Art, Nature and the Environment (RANE) research group. It aims to facilitate collaboration between ESI researchers and creative practitioners who address issues of environment and sustainability in their work and to generate opportunities for public engagement with ESI research. I would use my time as a Champion to coordinate a series of seminars and networking events (including one planned for 30 January 2013) to support colleagues in their development of relationships with creative practitioners. I will also link my work as a Champion to my role as the co-director of the CEAH. The CEAH aims to create opportunities for interdisciplinary investigation of the complex relationship between the environment and the human imagination.

Through my activities as a Champion I will work with colleagues to reflect on how best to link CEAH research initiatives to the needs and priorities of regional arts, heritage and conservation organizations, with a particular focus on co-design of research questions and co-authorship of research outputs.


Sharon Strawbridge


Sharon Strawbridge

The activity would target primary and early secondary level children (9-13) and their families.

I want to draw parents/carers in as partners with their children, in exploring the true wonder of the physical world, bringing science into the home, into every day dialogue and creating the seed bed where a life-long interest and engagement in science is fostered in the whole family.

I want to develop this approach in a sustainable way, I don’t want it to be just a single encounter, but a series of encounters (sessions) where families and I can get to know each other. I plan to provide a series of themed sessions based around the forces of nature, the technologies we live with and worlds beyond ours.  I also would like to use this as an opportunity to talk about what it is to be a scientist. I want to invite families to visit the university for a day to see real science happening within Physics and CEMPS, timed after the exam period ~ late June/July. And bring the families back to visit on subsequent occasions. I have talked with the institute of Physics about hosting the Festival of Physics in the forum during next summer, this may be an excellent focus to draw the project together.

I want to use this university support as an opportunity to test this model of public engagement and use this as a springboard for a family centered approach to raising aspirations and interest in science across the generations. We would also be able to target families and let them know about events in the area and importantly what’s going on in CEMPS/ University on a regular and friendly basis. I want to make this as accessible, friendly and inclusive as possible.


John Chilton and Lorna Harries

Lorna Harries

Lorna Harries

We will continue existing work that since 2006 under the banner of ‘Men in White’ (MiW) has established a strong brand identity and links spanning schools/colleges from Launceston to Dorchester and up to Barnstaple.  We invite Year 9 pupils into the labs during National Science and Engineering Week (NSEW) for hands-on activities and exploration of how scientific research affects society.

We will provide similar activities at the Big Bang South West in June 2013, the third year we will have done so – it has proved an excellent opportunity to reach an even wider range of schools and ages.

We are both STEMNet Ambassadors and offer Nuffield Bursary scheme placements for Year 12 students to work  in our labs.

John Chilton

We face a perennial challenge to persuade colleagues, from students to lecturers, to value and participate in public engagement.  There may be many reasons for this – perceived lack of time, awareness, relevance or skills – so we would like to run a workshop aimed at research scientists to address this.  The goal will eventually be to make public engagement the norm for Exeter researchers rather than being seen as a hobby or chore for a minority.

The more of our colleagues that get involved, the wider the range of skills and interests they will bring and thus a greater variety of opportunities for engagement will arise.  This is a more efficient, productive and sustainable way to foster such a culture than us trying to target an increasing number of demographics ourselves.


John Plunkett

John Plunkett

A key issue for colleagues wishing to undertake public engagement is to understand the range of opportunities that exist and the scope/limits of working with different public, arts and community groups. This is particularly so with new staff, and particularly applicable at this moment since most Colleges have recently made a large number of new appointments in the lead up to REF.

In this context, I would seek to disseminate existing examples of collaborative practice and public engagement offering up both internal and external perspectives. This might well take the form of a series of round-tables or seminars; colleagues from across all areas of the university would be invited to describe their work as, in my experience, the most stimulating ideas often come from hearing work taking place outside your immediate discipline. Colleagues would be joined by invited external speakers representing different types of public and/or community bodies (museums, schools, performers, media organisations, festival organisers) in order to make links with Exeter academics, to describe their own funding/institutional environment and to outline what benefits they would hope to gain from greater Public Engagement. Such events could, potentially, be recorded as podcasts, becoming part of the website/blog that could be consulted in the future.

In addition to these formal events, I would be keen on acting as an ad-hoc mentor for funding bids with significant Public Engagement elements. Finally, the additional knowledge gained the Champion role could be used to reflect upon how Public Engagement work might be embedded in Colleges through seed-corn funding, workload hours etc.


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