Let’s Engage: Pitching your research right

Shonagh McEwan, Knowledge Exchange and Impact Advisor, shares top tips from a recent public engagement training workshop for researchers taking part in this year’s ESRC Festival of Social Science.

We have 10 exciting research projects taking part in the ESRC’s UK-wide Festival of Social Science  this November. These events are funded through our ESRC Impact Acceleration Account, which is managed by the Knowledge Exchange and Impact Team in Edinburgh Research Office.

Who exactly is your audience and why do you want to engage with them?

The projects taking part in the Festival of Social Science are diverse, as are their target audiences, ranging from practitioners, policy-makers, school children, care experienced young people, to teachers and parents. To help the researchers put on great events, the Knowledge Exchange and Impact team ran a training workshop to help researchers learn how best to engage with their audiences.

The researchers were first asked to consider the aims of their event and why they want to engage their audience. Lesson number one: be specific about who you want to involve in your event and why you are engaging with them.

All audiences have assets and strengths and our researchers thought carefully about the two-way nature of this relationship and about any challenges or barriers that need to be re-designed to improve accessibility.

Research hooks: Starting a conversation

If you can answer why you are putting on the event, and specifically who you wish to engage with, then you can start to practise a ‘research hook’.  At the workshop, we asked the researchers to practise starting these conversations with one other, and not surprisingly it’s harder than you think!

We talked about how you can frame your research into a hook to start an open conversation. For example, you may wish to spark conversation about architecture, design and playgrounds with children, and a simple and really good way to start might be: ‘What makes you happy?’ A project on multilingualism might ask a parent, ‘If you could speak another language, what could it be?’

Bringing in the right audiences

You can use similar strategies with your written communication. Whether it is for an Eventbrite page or other marketing and communication materials ask yourself – What’s the hook? What’s the level of detail that’s truly required? Less can be more. Always think about your audience’s needs. Make it as easy as possible to read, with short sentences.

If you are collaborating or working in partnership with external organisations, they can be really useful to help bring the right audience to your event. Are there intermediary organisations or networks you can reach out through? If so, communicate information about your event through their existing networks and communication channels.

Research where your audience is in terms of geographical location or the type of online space they use regularly such as Facebook or Twitter. You can then design a good image alongside your written pitch to use on your Eventbrite page and on social media.

Capturing success

Remember to build in evaluation of your event. The projects will have to use ESRC standard evaluation forms as part of their events, but researchers were also encouraged to use evaluation methods creatively to capture impact as well as to learn and reflect upon their public engagement practice.

We looked at real-time voting software like Mentimeter and the creative use of postcards to help evaluate and capture success.

Open endings

Public engagement events for any researcher can be part of ongoing knowledge exchange activities that help build opportunities. At the workshop our researchers spent time considering their ‘open endings’: How do you finish the conversation open to other opportunities? What happens when the event ends? What can you open up that enables you to engage further?

On that note, we wish all of this year’s Festival of Social Science participants the very best of luck. Look out for our University of Edinburgh events in this Festival!

We especially acknowledge and thank Lewis Hou from Science Ceilidh who designed and delivered this training in collaboration with the KEI Team. Also refer to: https://www.lewishou.com/

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Shonagh McEwan

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