What do evaluation practices reveal about the evolving career and working life of the public engagement professional?: An exploration of government-funded research centres in Ireland.

Author: Sylvia Leatham – Dublin City University, Ireland

The Irish government is investing millions of euro in scientific research, in an effort to boost Ireland’s economic competitiveness. Alongside research obligations, institutions and researchers funded by the State are obliged to carry out public engagement activities. There are growing expectations that these outreach activities be evaluated – that is, measured in some way for impact or effectiveness. However, much evaluation activity is ‘hidden’ in unpublished reports to funders, and scholarly publications on evaluation are few and far between in Ireland.

Both the academic arena and the field of practice in public engagement suffer from a lack of agreed standards around evaluation: There are no generally agreed measures of efficacy, definitions of success, or even, at times, definitions of terminology.

An examination of the evaluation practices of publicly funded scientific research centres in Ireland – carried out during a master’s in Science Communication at Dublin City University – aimed to identify current practices, establish common themes and highlight ‘pain points’. A qualitative approach was used to thematically analyse the knowledge, behaviour and experiences of public engagement professionals employed by Science Foundation Ireland Research Centres. These Education and Public Engagement managers are responsible for the coordination, delivery and evaluation of outreach programmes on behalf of their research centres.

Analysis of ten semi-structured interviews resulted in six themes:

• Lack of resources

• Knowledge, expertise and training

• Qualitative data and evaluation as research

• Isolated autonomy and the desire to collaborate

• Approaches, methods and challenges

• Attitude and motivation

This study yields a partial insight into the working life of a public engagement manager in a third-level institute, combined with findings around evaluation practices, attitudes and behaviour in SFI Research Centres. Recommendations are presented for consideration by those interested in enhancing the evaluation skills, capacity and support for research centres and their public engagement managers.

The author has not yet submitted a copy of the full paper.

Presentation type: Individual paper
Theme: Transformation