The Public and how to engage with them
There is a new report out from the National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement (NCCPE), concerning student volunteers at science festivals. It’s actually quite interesting and I will get to it soon, but it did start me wondering exactly why we need a centre for public engagement and whether it needs co-ordinating nationally?
Checking their site I found out that the NCCPE – wasn’t there a better acronym? – ‘helps universities engage with the public’. That’s good isn’t it? Helping universities hire the public! Ah no – helping them fascinate the public? Sorry ‘engage with’ of course and that means what exactly? Well, the NCCPE tells you:
So there! And if that doesn’t convince you there’s a link that takes you to another whole page of definitions! A whole page – wow, I’m almost sad that my link didn’t work. On the site you can also find out ‘who the public are’, and what exactly the ‘engaged university’ is, as well as being directed to a ‘toolkit for people who want to engage the public’.
Still not feeling completely clear about all this, I investigated further and found that the NCCPE is part of the Beacons for Public Engagement (sic). OK, a beacon is a signalling or guiding light and so, presumably, this is a way to help the public to recognise that universities are, and always have been, guiding lights shining out into the wilderness – beacons of hope in an increasingly gloomy, cultural smog. However, reading on it seems that the beacons are ‘at the forefront of efforts to change the culture in universities, assisting staff and students to engage with the public’.
Hmm, suddenly the onus is fully on the universities to change is it? Now, I am the last person to praise the insularity of many universities, but I also do not subscribe to the notion that ‘the world’ should be handed to the public (must check who they are – I thought I was one of them as well) on a silver platter, predigested. So there is something here with the NCCPE – apart from the HR speak – that just worries me slightly, but ‘mutual benefit’ is good and we remain optimistic! Let it be known though that some things require work on the public’s side as well – everybody, including ‘public students’, has to get to grips with that; better sooner than later. And I must admit when I have tried to enlighten the public about the joys, for example, of freeze-fracture replication, I am usually met with a glazed expression followed by a panicky look as they search frantically for an exit. Maybe I just lack the correct tools. Pass me the monkey wrench will you?