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Factors affecting public engagement by researchers

In 2015, a consortium of 15 funders of UK public research, including the Research Councils, commissioned a study to provide independent evidence to inform future strategies for supporting researchers to engage with the public. It also wanted to update the understanding gained from a survey of scientists and engineers, published by the Royal Society in 2006.

A sample of 2,454 research staff of all disciplines working in universities, research institutes and clinical settings across them UK were surveyed and there was a separate web survey of 269 public engagement enablers (staff who support and facilitate researchers in their public engagement activities).

Key findings from the study include the following:

  • Participation in public engagement was higher among researchers in the arts, humanities and social sciences (AHSS) at 88 per cent, than in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) at 78 per cent.
  • AHSS researchers were also more likely to value it as a core component of their role (52 per cent compared to 37 per cent of STEM).
  • However, since the last study into this area in 2006, the number of STEM researchers who value public engagement as a core component of their role has risen from 28 to 37 per cent.
  • The proportion of STEM researchers who would like to engage more with the public has increased from 45 per cent to 53 per cent and they also feel better equipped to engage with the public than they did in 2006 (up from 51 per cent to 63 per cent).
  • Sixty-four per cent of researchers from all disciplines who have been in their careers for 10 years felt that encouragement from their institution had increased in the last decade.
  • Despite these changes there are still significant obstacles to researchers undertaking public engagement. Competing pressures on time emerged as the biggest barrier to researchers undertaking public engagement (61 per cent). Other barriers included difficulty accessing relevant opportunities (26 per cent) and insufficient funding (26 per cent).

The report Factors affecting public engagement by researchers is available to read at www.wellcome.ac.uk/PERSurvey


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