Engagement | Cardiff University

‘Engagement | Cardiff University’ is an AHRC Cultural Engagement-funded project exploring how the arts and humanities engage with the wider public, with particular emphasis on community and practitioner engagement research projects and activities. ‘Engagement | Cardiff University’ covers a diverse range of engagement undertakings, including engagement through the co-production of research, outreach activities, and events where academics’ expertise is drawn upon (e.g. Cardiff BookTalk/sciSCREEN). The project has two aims:

  • Initiate a ‘dialogue platform’ around engagement across schools
  • Promote a better understanding of engagement rooted in the reality of academic life

Cardiff academics sharing their experience… A cornerstone of the project is the current development of a best practice ‘tool’/website to support academics (with or without experience of engaging the wider public) in the funding, design, delivery and evaluation of their engagement projects and activities. While showing how to maximise the benefits of Cardiff arts and humanities research to the local communities that it serves, the website is also useful to stakeholders outside Higher Education Institutions. To address the challenges of generalising about engagement (e.g. collaborations vary drastically), the website is centred on a series of case studies highlighting a diverse range of approaches to engagement and good practice at Cardiff University.

What do we mean? Engagement is understood in broad terms as initiatives where academics are in interaction with people other than academics/students. It therefore refers to instances when the communities, practitioners, the general public and policy makers, for example, are engaged.

Where we’ve been recently… In March, Connected Communities (AHRC and ESRC-funded programme) held its showcase in London. The event yielded some crucial and thought-provoking points about community engagement (Connected Communities Showcase 2013 Report).

In April, the Graduate College held its first showcase of Public Engagement by postgraduate students. The event was centred on physical and oral showcases by students which helped the people present gauge the extensiveness of their public engagement work at Cardiff University. The breadth of public engagement was evident, and outreach work with schools in particular stood out (e.g. SHARE with Schools, Outreach with Chemistry). Importantly, the event also highlighted the numerous ways in which students benefit from getting involved in public engagement activities, be it from a personal perspective (e.g. becoming more confident) or a career perspective (e.g. the growing recognition of public engagement in academia and how experience of public engagement can help students).

On the 13 May 2013, Cardiff University held its 3rd public engagement lunch networking event. This lunch time discussion drew on the experience of Professor Jenny Kitzinger (Director of Research – JOMEC) and Olly Birrel (Graduate Intern – Community Engagement Team) on the organisation of the 10-day Before I Die festival which focused on end of life wishes, death and advance decisions. Among the topics discussed, Jenny and Olly shared their experience of organising and setting up evaluation tools for the festival’s multifarious events – e.g. discussions panels, lectures, music, poetry and theatre – with the promise to share the outcome of the festival in a near future.

On the 29 of May 2013, UEA and ARVAC (Association for Research in the Voluntary and Community Sector) held a workshop on ‘The Role of Universities in Encouraging Community Participation in Research’, followed by a masterclass the following day. This was part of the ‘Community Participation in research: From Paradigms to Practice’ series of events organised in conjunction with the visit of David Horton Smith – Professor of Altruistics and Community Engagement and a Fulbright Visiting Scholar. There were Some really thought-provoking (and sometimes radical) reflections that arose about the creation of knowledge in universities, the place of communities in the creation of this knowledge and the characteristics, challenges and future of collaborations between academics and communities for research purposes.

A series of best practice principles for community participation were notably discussed, among which ‘providing training and support, practical and emotional’, ‘some research does not need discernible outcomes’, ’inclusiveness at all stages’. For a complete list of these principles and further information about the series of events, consult Audience Practice Principles for building Community Participation in Research. Other initiatives which we thought you might also find useful: Link to Cue East Public Engagement with Research at the University of East Anglia, Concordat for Engaging the Public with Research (a set of principles drawn up by funders of research in the UK). The events were successful and timely in showing the diverse and wide-ranging benefits, strengths, pitfalls, challenges and future of community participation research.

The Public Engagement Ambassadors event held in our School of History, Archaeology and religion on the Thursday 6th June was an astute introduction to the numerous public engagement activities within the school. In addition to showing the proactivity of its three departments in engaging people outside Cardiff University, this event also succeeded in showing a diversity of engagement activities. Represented were: the activities of the Guerrilla Archaeology Collective, the performance of the most ancient Sanskrit play in Splott and the SS Great Britain Conservation Project (projects which all engaged the ‘general public’).

Also mentioned were: the large-scale CAER Heritage Project which has successfully established an ongoing dialogue with the local residents and schools in Ely and Caerau and the outreach work of the Department of Religion in Cardiff Muslim communities. Interestingly, the afternoon session saw two BBC Wales members of staff talk informally about ways in which academics can use BBC Wales to engage with the general public, stressing the best way to approach them, diffusing fears around misquotations of what was said and giving concrete examples of how news stories were developed to name but a few.

‘Engagement | Cardiff University’ is led by Dr Clyde Ancarno (AHRC-funded Research Associate in SHARE) and Dr Jonathan Cable (AHRC-funded Research Associate in JOMEC). If you’d like to suggest anything for the toolkit, please do get in touch with us ancarnocs@cf.ac.uk / cablej1@cf.ac.uk.


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