The New Ideas Festival at Lancaster University has concluded for this year and it was a real success and something I would recommend to anyone who is currently researching, to get involved in. As mentioned in a previous post, the schools visits were deemed really interesting and useful and students got a fantastic reception and review from the schools visited. Despite the typical Lancaster wind and rain PhD students also presented their posters in Market Square (see the photo) in Lancaster city centre, catching passers-by.
I was really pleased with the reactions to my poster. People seemed to respond well to my topic of grandparents because they could relate to it and it was nice to hear people discussing the role. It reminded me strongly of conducting my interviews which was a pleasant surprise and an enjoyable time. Talking to the public also gave me some good ideas for further research (which I am going to keep under my hat!). This kind of feedback is invaluable to me, as someone looking for the next research project and with a desire to do research that will really help people. Next year and in subsequent events, the poster session will hopefully be held in warmer months, to increase traffic walking by and to present to a much wider audience.
The PhD PKN at the Storey Institute in Lancaster was also really interesting and students, including myself, presented on a range of topics from Wind Farm developments to fuel poverty in ageing, and dung beetles populations to Citizen Science. Each presentation was only 6 mins 40, which proved to be a real challenge but did keep the two hours running smoothly and seemingly maintaining audience interest. The staff PKN was also fascinating and topics ranged from social media profiles after death to theatre representations and comic images to contactless technologies.
We had a few audience members there from the public but next year and in subsequent events, advertising will need to be done sooner, as well as building upon contacts established on the night. Based on these observations below is my list of recommendations for any researchers considering or planning public engagement work:
Use a range of communication methods
The event consisted of a range of different events across the week, including presentation of posters, PKN presentations (by staff and researchers) and schools visits. This allows you to play with ideas about communicating research and to develop skills in pitching research at particular non-specialist audiences.
Advertise early and widely
For any public engagement event it is important to advertise it early and widely. This will increase the amount of members of the public you are likely to meet and talk to and potentially increase the opportunity to get relevant feedback and research ideas. While for our event we advertised using a range of different methods, I think next time an earlier start will help increase audience numbers and participation
Expect the unexpected
The public can say surprising things so be prepared for the unexpected and prepare those engaging with the public for this as well. I was surprised by one ladies reaction that men don’t anything as grandfathers! While I disagreed with her to some extent, I had to quickly recover and explore the reasons why she felt this way.
Plan for next time
As we went along on the day, myself and the organisers made notes of contacts and any things we felt could be improved for next time. In doing this we have built up a resource for organising public engagement in the future that we can share with future organisers.
I hope this blog is useful to anyone planning on public engagement and if there is anything you wish to add please do!