Welcome to the first in the series of ‘Top Tips’ for public engagement. These were contributed by a wide range of public engagement practitioners who have had experience working with diverse publics in innovative ways and locations. This installment – Organising your public engagement initiative.
Budget well in advance to make sure you have sufficient funding.
Set clear aims and objectives for the project. This must be agreed by all the partners involved in the project. Be absolutely clear in your own mind why you want or need to run it and what the benefits, costs, and risks are. Be realistic about what can be achieved with the time/resources available.
Consider the sustainability of this kind of initiative: incorporate training opportunities within the project where possible to maximise the impact and sustain the benefits of the project.
Keep your colleagues in the loop, let them know what you are doing and why and you will be amazed by the support they will give. Be aware of local networks which could help you plan and implement your initiative.
Be aware of your own capacity, it is better to do less at a higher standard than spread yourself too thin. Be prepared to be flexible, and ensure all participants / scientists appreciate the need for flexibility in the circumstances and environment of your activities.
Consider how it fits into your wider audience development strategy. Will it build on any previous projects? Are they the start of something new or a stand-alone initiative?
It is essential that prior to any sessions taking place its important to compile a full risk assessment of the project site and activities resources in order to identify hazards and action needed to reduce risk to a safe level . This should be done though site visits and group discussion and completing Health and Safety Form taking into consideration : suitability and accessibility of site choice; ground rules for the day; safety issues surrounding essential tools, resources and equipment; and delegation of individual and group responsibilities. The risk assessment should include location of the site, grid reference, phone number of the nearest hospital and all group leaders should have access to this information.
Get marketing out early – if timescale is shortened this can be problematic. Use lots of ways to advertise – ‘pupil post’ to primary schools, door-to-door leafleting, event literature. Make as much as possible of online marketing – blog, twitter, vodcast and podcast.
Free tickets for events can be counter-productive – some people won’t turn up!
Think about the equality and diversity agenda, in particular ensuring that women are spokespeople for science as well as men. Build this in to your programme from the outset.
Always evaluate the events and use the opportunity to learn more about your new audience.
Transport. It is really important to work out transport links for the places shown to visit. Special maps with information about buses, trains and other modes of public transport should be included. Provide clear instructions on what to expect during activities – advise on what to bring and wear e.g. appropriate footwear, path qualities (buggies).
Be aware how many young children (under 5s) might turn up. They might need special activities/supervision. Young children might limit what practical activities can be run (use of hot equipment or liquids, chemicals, etc.), and may be disruptive during talk programmes.