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Engaging public groups with your research

A quick-start how-to guide to engaging public groups with your research.

A researcher engaging people around a table with a board game he made about his research
A researcher using a board game they developed to engage people with his work


The key to successful public engagement with your research is planning: it is important to think about why you want to engage and who you want to engage before deciding how you’re going to do it. This guide is a quick overview of some of the key considerations to help shape your plans for public engagement.

Reasons to engage

For researchers at the University of Bath, engaging public groups with their research tends to serve three purposes:

  • to inform and inspire others: researchers informing and inspiring a variety of different public groups with their research
  • to listen to others: researchers receiving views, insights and perspectives from public groups about their research
  • to collaborate with others: whereby researchers and the public work together on particular projects or help define future research direction, policy or implementation of research outcomes

Most public engagement with research activities will include a combination of these types of interactions.

It is important to remember that public engagement needs to be a two-way process which will result in mutual benefit - for you or your research and your participants. This mutual benefit can take many forms - it can be as straightforward as developing a skill, having the opportunity to meet people, or experiencing something new. The two-way process it involves may be in real-time or it may take place over time.

Reasons and personal motivations for engagement will vary dependent on research areas. Our Engaged Researcher case studies show examples of why researchers at the University have engaged public groups with their work and how they and their research have benefited from engagement activity.

Understanding your reasons to engage

Public Engagement Onion

The Public Engagement Onion is a model of thinking about your public engagement activities. The closer your activity is to the 'core' of the model the more impact engagment has on your research moving from telling or information giving on the outside to two-way dialogue and co-design.

Public Engagement Triangle

The Public Engagement Triangle is a tool that outlines the different public engagement activities under three key purposes outlined above. The purpose of this triangle is to show that all three have value, and your engagement work will probably fall somewhere in the middle of the three.

Who to engage

People differ in many ways, such as their interests, affiliations, background, age, economic circumstances, location and gender. Who you want to reach will depend on the nature of your research and the reasons for the engagement. High-quality public engagement with research activities have a clear and specific demographic in mind - rather than the ‘general public’.

Once you have identified who want to engage, the best way of reaching out maybe through a partnership with another organisation such as voluntary sector organisations and charities, museums and galleries, schools or festivals that already works with or has access to your identified audience. The Public Engagement Unit have a number of partnerships in Bath and wider across the South West, get in touch with us if you have would like help with forming a partnership.

Thinking about who you want to engage

When thinking about who you might want to engage with your research, the following might be helpful considerations:

  • public engagement should enrich or enhance your research and should not be essential to it
  • work with an audience you feel you already know a little about
  • put yourself in their shoes and think about why they would want to engage with you - if you're not sure, ask them
  • seek advice from others who have previously worked with your audience

For a more detailed overview of who might want to engage with you and how they might benefit, the Planning for Impact Toolkit developed by the University's Research & Innovation Services is a useful resource. If you want to engage specifically with policymakers and public groups interested in health research get in touch with:

  • the Institute for Policy Research who can offer expertise in forging links between research and policy worlds or be able to support you to engage with policymakers

  • Bath Research & Development who can offer support in involving in health research those with experience of a particular health condition, service users and members of the public.

The National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement has a range of resources that can also help when thinking about who to engage.

When to engage

Public engagement can be connected to any stage of the research process - it’s never too early or too late to engage the public in your work.

Engagement across the research lifecycle

You engagement priorities will vary depending on where you are in your research lifecycle. It may not be relevant for you to engage throughout the whole lifecycle, just at certain times. Or you may look to engage different audiences at different stages of your research. You should take whatever approach makes the most sense for your research.

Consider how you'll engage right at the beginning of the lifecycle. Not only will this ensure you're thinking about who to engage with and how to engage with them, it'll also mean you can include plans in your grant proposal.

UK Research and Innovation require you to complete a Pathways to Impact statement in grant proposals. Through this, you can resource your engagement activities. The University's Research & Innovation Services has developed a Planning for Impact Toolkit designed to support you in completion of your impact statement.

Thinking about when to engage

When thinking about when is the best time to engage public groups, there are certain things you might like to consider:

  • looking for existing opportunities to engage your audience (for example, regular meetings they may hold)
  • thinking about times and events where there are many people in one place (for example, festivals)
  • prioritising your audience's convenience over your own
  • seeking out a representative amongst your selected public and ask them for advice

The National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement have a guide to working in partnership with others.

How to engage

Once you've decided why and who, you can then think about the best format to engage in order to achieve your objectives and that is best suited to the target public groups and maximise the impact of your research.

For inspiration, check out some of the case studies we have put together of public engagement activities researchers at the University have developed and delievered.

The National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement has developed some practical guides on methods for engaging the public that include skills required, things to bear in mind and cost and time requirements.

Thinking about how to engage

The methods and techniques you choose to use can be aligned to your reasons for engagement.

To inform and inspire

  • Festivals
  • Exhibitions
  • Social media
  • Television and radio programmes
  • Websites
  • Debates, lectures and talks
  • Newsletters

To consult or listen

  • Surveys and questionnaires
  • Feedback forms
  • Focus groups
  • Citizens' juries
  • Ballots and voting
  • Advisory panels
  • Public meetings

To collaborate

  • Open space events
  • Stakeholder dialogue
  • Patient panels
  • Consensus workshops
  • Partnership brokering
  • Steering groups
  • Mediation


If you have any questions, please contact us.

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