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Study shows majority of researchers are participating in public engagement

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Eight in 10 (82%) researchers carried out at least one form of public engagement in the past year, according to a new study launched at the Engage conference in Bristol.The study Factors affecting public engagement by researchers was commissioned by a consortium of 15 UK research funders including the British Academy and Universities UK, led by the Wellcome Trust.

The study found that participation in public engagement was higher among researchers in the arts, humanities and social sciences (AHSS) at 88%, than in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) at 78%. AHSS researchers were also more likely to value it as a core component of their role (52% compared to 37% of STEM).

However since the last study in this area in 2006**, the number of STEM researchers who value public engagement as a core component of their role has risen from 28 to 37%. The proportion of STEM researchers who would like to engage more with the public has also increased from 45 per cent to 53 per cent and they also feel better equipped to engage with the public than they did in 2006 (up from 51% to 63%).

64% of researchers from all disciplines who have been in their careers for 10 years felt that encouragement from their institution had increased in the last decade.

Despite these changes there are still significant obstacles to researchers undertaking public engagement. Competing pressures on time emerged as the biggest barrier to researchers undertaking public engagement (61%. Other barriers included difficulty accessing relevant opportunities (26%) and insufficient funding (26%).

The report Factors affecting public engagement by researchers is available to read at www.wellcome.ac.uk/PERSurvey.

The research was commissioned by a UK consortium of research funders. They are Wellcome Trust; Royal Society; British Academy; Royal Academy of Engineering; Academy of Medical Sciences; Royal Society of Chemistry; Research Councils UK; UK Funding Bodies (HEFCE, HEFCW, Scottish Funding Council and Department for Employment and Learning - Northern Ireland); Department for Business, Innovation and Skills; Department for Health (National Institute for Health Research); Health and Care Research Wales, Welsh Government; and the Scottish Government. The project is also supported by Universities UK.

*In the report public engagement is defined according to the RCUK’s 2010 Concordat for Engaging the public with research which emphasises the more two-way, dialogic, characteristics of public engagement as opposed to more information-based communication such as the media.

**The Consortium wanted to update its understanding gained from a survey of scientists and engineers, published by the Royal Society in 2006 and conducted with the support of Research Councils UK and the Wellcome Trust Factors Affecting Science Communication by Scientists and Engineers.

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