Public engagement with research
This page details public engagement funding, training, information and support for researchers.
Find out more about NERC public engagement projects on our public pages with information about activities for the public and schools.
Our public engagement strategy
Introduction to public engagement at NERC
Responsibility, relevance and impact
As the UK’s largest funder of independent environmental science, we have a responsibility to share the science we fund with society. Beyond communication, we want to meaningfully engage and involve people with current environmental science which has relevance to all of our daily lives, and maximise the impact of the research we fund. By listening to, engaging and involving the public, we aim to fund the best environmental science relevant to society, to enable informed, evidence-based decisions to be made by all.
Supporting the UKRI vision: discuss, create and participate
NERC has a strategy for public engagement with research and innovation, which supports the UKRI Public Engagement Vision. We work alongside the whole of UKRI to deliver our strategy.
Strategy, glossary and implementation
The NERC Public Engagement with Research and Innovation Strategy (PDF, 89KB) outlines our purpose, objectives, approach and commitment to public engagement, from 2019-2024. Our activities, and those we commission, will be guided by five objectives:
- To build the capacity of our researchers to engage.
- To promote engaged research.
- To convene public debate about contemporary issues in environmental science.
- To inspire public audiences with environmental science.
- To listen to the public through public dialogue to inform NERC.
As a part of the strategy NERC commissioned these series of illustrations showing the myriad of ways environmental scientists can engage with members of the public. To find out more, and to access downloads of the illustrations please email email@example.com
Our strategy is supported by a public engagement glossary (PDF, 64KB), which has definitions of terms associated with public engagement as used by NERC, and provided for clarity for when NERC uses a term.
Our annual implementation plans outline the specific activity we plan each year which will deliver the strategy:
Find out stories of engagement and its impacts:
- PE Impact sheet
- Turning trailblazing science into agenda-setting TV: NERC science helps to shape BBC nature documentaries that drive public policy and change the way people choose to live their lives - extraordinary, award-winning programmes watched by millions and exported worldwide.
- Stories about our engagement work can be seen on Planet Earth.
Creating the strategy
The strategy builds on current and previous investments supported through our previous strategy, from the NERC Community for Engaging Environments, our largest single investment in public engagement, through to grants given to individual researchers. We're presenting a bold approach to support engaged research and ensure that we are listening to the public, as one of our stakeholders.
Our approach to creating the strategy is outlined below.
Consultation and event
We commissioned Helix Research and Evaluation, in partnership with the National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement (NCCPE) to review the current status of public engagement with environmental science; and seek feedback on the strategy, through consultation with stakeholders and an open online survey. See the Helix report (PDF, 336KB).
We also ran a consultation event in partnership with the NCCPE on Tuesday 15 October 2020 in Birmingham, to get feedback and understand how we can work with our partners to achieve the strategy. The event also celebrated research that has successfully demonstrated purposeful engagement in the research community. See the NCCPE report (PDF, 113KB).
Embedding Engagement Grant
We funded ten small projects, between £2,000 and £5,000, which demonstrated how the strategy aligns with activity that our community and institutions are, and plan to be, delivering:
|Lead contact||Organisation||Grant title|
|Alastair Culham||University of Reading||Engaging with environments in space and time: activity co-development with researchers, communicators and 3D pollen|
|Ashley Mills||University of Kent||Air pollution and urban green spaces: a citizen science exploration|
|Carly Stevens||Lancaster University||Investing in the future of science – assessing engagement with school-age children|
|Chris Skinner||University of Hull||The Earth Arcade Academy|
|Harriett Richardson||National Centre for Atmospheric Science||Champions for Engaged Research Network|
|Hugh Sinclair||University of Edinburgh||Good and bad floods in Nepal|
|Jennifer Jamieson Ball||British Geological Survey||Sowing the Seeds: tools and training to enable public engagement plans to flourish|
|Kath Maguire||University of Exeter||Community Researchers: Nature, Place, and Wellbeing|
|Marie Nugent||University of Leicester||‘Meet your match’ Culture Change and Matchmaking Project|
|Sophie Smith||Imperial College London||Connecting museums and academics to communicate climate change via curations|
For full information about the grant, please see details of the Announcement of Opportunity.
An advisory group was recruited to act as a critical friend to advise NERC on the content and drafting of the strategy. The members are:
- Dr Rob Fish, University of Kent, Director of Research & Research Ethics, School of Anthropology & Conservation; Co-Director, Kent Interdisciplinary Centre for Spatial Studies (Chair)
- Dr Erinma Ochu, University of Salford, Lecturer, Science Communication & Future Media
- Dr Henk Mulder, University of Groningen, Netherlands, Programme Director, Master Science Education & Communication, Coordinator Science Shop, Lecturer Science & Society
- Professor Katherine Royse, British Geological Society, Chief Digital Officer
Contact and further information
NERC’s mission to engage the public with environmental science is referred to in the Higher Education & Research Act (PDF).
For further details about NERC’s public engagement, please get in touch.
Want to run your own AccessLab?
AccessLabs is a way for researchers to build new relationships and help those working in their local community to access and use scientific research. NERC worked with non-profit organisations the British Science Association - external link and FoAM - external link to launch AccessLab in 2018, running three workshops held in Penzance for the marine sector, Exeter for journalists / media, and finally Plymouth for policymakers.
A comprehensive AccessLab how-to - external link is now available, for others wanting to develop similar events.
Are you looking for ready-made activities for public events?
You can borrow the brilliant Operation Earth - external link hands-on kit, which includes engaging experiments for families on a range of environmental science topics, including:
- Earthy, our planet Earth costume character with its very own ice cap
- Biodiversity activities, including indoor citizen science (biodiversity mat), origami plant pot, and pollinators demonstration with dressing up kit
- Air quality activities, including demonstration and air quality sensor
- Ocean activities, including plastics demonstration and ocean acidification experiment
- Microscopy activity, with microscope and slides
- Earth observation image activity
- Branded graphics, including banner and table cloth
You must be a NERC researcher or from a NERC research centre to borrow the kit. For more information, please see the document below.
To apply to borrow the kit, complete the online application form.
Funding for public engagement
Public engagement as a pathway to impact
Public engagement activities are considered a pathway to potential economic and societal impacts. Researchers can request resources and time to undertake relevant public engagement activities to achieve their Pathways to Impact.
We are working to embed our public engagement within research grants (in line with the Concordat for Engaging the Public with Research (PDF) - external link) and encourage grant applicants to do this. The UKRI has more information and guidance about public engagement as a pathway to impact - external link.
NERC researchers have worked external organisations to increase the impact of their work. For example, FoAM have worked on projects such as Mongoose 2000 - external link, Behaving Genes - external link and Cricket Tales - external link (contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information).
Below are some examples of impact case studies from REF2014, with a public engagement focus:
- Hypothesis-led citizen science: The 'Conker Tree Science' project - external link
- Explore the deep: Public engagement with deep-ocean research - external link
- Ocean acidification research as a model for environmental education in secondary schools - external link
NERC funding for public engagement
NERC supports a strategic public engagement programme. The following call is currently open:
Engaging environments stage 2
With engaging environments stage 2, NERC is inviting proposals for delivery of public engagement activities costing up to £1·3 million (at 80% full economic cost, with some exceptions) over 36 months. This follows on from stage 1 of engaging environments, detailed below.
Previous NERC funding for public engagement
2017 funding call: Engaging environments
Engaging Environments is six projects, awarded a total of £500,000 that will build consortia and capacity in public engagement with environmental research across the UK, following a call for proposals. This consortium and capacity building stage aimed to build a long-term, effective and innovative public engagement community, and support the formation of collaborative teams who would then go on, in a second stage, to bid to lead one ambitious, large-scale project that will achieve national impact and recognition in engaging the UK public with contemporary issues of environmental science. This funding call was informed by a community consultation event.
2016 funding call: Engaging the UK public with the big issues of environmental science
The engaging the UK public with the big issues of environment science funding call resulted in NERC backing 18 projects.
NERC's Summer of Science: Public engagement for NERC's 50th anniversary
To mark its 50th anniversary in 2015, NERC supported a series of events and activities to engage the public with its research. NERC's Summer of Science took place across the UK, enabling the public to encounter NERC research in a range of venues during the summer months of 2015. Funds were available to support, develop and deliver this.
Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition (2015)
Other sources of funding
In the first instance, it is worth speaking to your university's or your department's public engagement people, if they have them, as they will be able to provide local advice to help with funding and/or support.
The funding page of the National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement - external link - have quite a lot of ideas of funding sources.
Public engagement training
NERC public engagement training
There are currently no open training courses.
Other public engagement training courses
In the first instance, it is worth speaking to your university's or your department's public engagement people, if they have them, as they will be able to provide local advice to help with training and/or support.
The training page of the National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement has links to other training courses - external link. They also run their own public engagement training - external link - and hold an annual Engage Conference - external link.
The British Ecological Society - external link - offers free training for members.
Sense about Science run Voice of Young Science workshops - external link - which are free for early career researchers who are passionate about science and want to communicate to a wider audience.
British Science Association Media Fellowships - external link - provide a unique opportunity for practising scientists, clinicians and engineers to spend three to six weeks working at the heart of a media outlet such as The Guardian, the BBC or Nature News.
Public engagement information
Your public engagement responsibilities
NERC expects our researchers to consider where best to engage the public (non-researchers) with their research.
Public engagement is a condition of all NERC grants and fellowships, as stated in section GC20 of the NERC research grants and fellowships handbook (see the download section on this page). The UKRI statement of expectation on economic & societal impact - external link - sets out researchers' responsibilities to achieve maximum impact from their publicly-funded work.
Engaging the public with your research can improve the quality and impact of your work, raise your profile and develop your skills. It also enables members of the public to act as informed citizens and can inspire the next generation of researchers.
Public engagement is an important part of your responsibilities as a recipient of public funding and you should plan it into your research at the outset - it is not a 'nice to have' or something you tack onto the end of your research as an afterthought. Engagement activities can take place at any stage, or throughout your work: they can help shape your research question, be part of your research process, and/or happen at the end of the grant to feedback on the findings and potentially influence future research.
All researchers are required to submit a pathways to impact plan with their grant application. Funds are available to support activities identified in the plan which can help achieve societal and economic impacts; project-specific public engagement activities, which are relevant and appropriate to your proposed research, can be included as ways of generating impact in your Pathways to Impact plan.
There are many activities you can take part in or run, in terms of public engagement which has overlaps with communications, outreach, knowledge exchange and policy engagement. The NCCPE have a wide range of evidence-based information and advice on their website - external link -.
What is public engagement?
Public engagement describes the many different ways that research and its benefits are shared with members of the public. Engaged research is meaningful for both parties and encompasses interactions over any or all stages of the research process (from issue formation to evaluation and dissemination). Engagement can happen throughout the life course of a research grant:
- before research begins to help shape research questions
- during the research as part of the research process
- at the end of the grant to feedback on the findings and potentially influence the future research portfolio.
Public engagement is a condition of all NERC grants and fellowships, as stated in section GC20 of the NERC research grants and fellowships handbook (see the download section on this page).
There are a variety of reasons to engage the public with environmental science; if planned and delivered effectively, it can bring benefits to universities, to researchers, and to wider society. The National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement - external link - is the place to go for expert advice, training and tools, and it is worth taking a look at their webpages if you would like a deeper, evidence-based look at public engagement.
What is the purpose and audience of your public engagement work?
Considering the purpose for engaging members of the public in your research is important - why are you spending valuable time on this activity? Broadly, there are three main purposes for doing public engagement work:
- Informing, inspiring and educating members of the public to make environmental science and the process of research more accessible.
- To actively listen to views, concerns and insights of members of the public, and using these in research.
- Working in partnership with members of the public to solve research problems together, drawing on each other's expertise.
Who are 'the public'? Clear, insightful thinking about your 'audience' will help target your engagement and maximise quality.
The UKRI best practice guides and publications - external link - will help you get the most out of your public engagement activities including evaluating their success.
Public engagement reports
Public Insights Project
NERC commissioned an independent contractor, ComRes, to undertake work that enables the research councils individually and collectively to:
- better tailor their communications and engagement activities to be audience-led
- track long-term trends in changing attitudes, sentiment and engagement, and use this to assess the success of activities and refine approaches as necessary.
A focus of NERC’s public engagement strategy is “to listen to the public through public dialogue to inform NERC”.
The 2019 Digital Environment Public Dialogue sought to listen to what diverse groups of people, as stakeholders in research, thought about NERC’s new digital environment research theme, led by specialists Hopkins Van Mil. Find out more by reading the dialogue report (PDF, 1.4MB) and evaluation report (PDF, 472KB) or on the digital environment website.
Previous public dialogue projects, co-funded by Sciencewise, include:
- Global food security public panel (2015)
- UK National Ecosystem Assessment (2015)
- Space weather dialogue (2013)
- Public engagement with shale gas and oil (2013)
- Water Quality and Sustainability (2012)
- Planet Under Pressure Conference – Youth Voice (2012)
- Citizens Advisory Forum for Living with Environmental Change (2011)
- Geoengineering (2010)
Media and Planet Earth
You can follow our work and join the conversation via the social media platforms linked at the foot of this page.
Citizen science can broadly be defined as the involvement of volunteers in science - external link. You can find out more about NERC's citizen science activities.
- Conker Tree Science - external link
- Guide to Citizen Science - external link
- Citizen Science apps - external link
If you want further information about public engagement or wish to join a network:
- British Science Association - external link
- National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement - external link
- Public engagement Jiscmail list - external link
- STEM Ambassadors - external link
- Wellcome Trust - external link
If you are interested in specific public engagement activities that researchers can get involved in:
- Battle of Ideas - external link
- Café Scientifique - external link
- I'm a scientist - external link | I'm an engineer - external link
- Institute of Ideas: The Academy - external link
- Nuffield Research Placements - external link
- Pint of Science - external link
- Sense about Science - external link
- The Brilliant Club - external link
Hannah King is our public engagement officer, based in the Communications & Engagement team here at NERC, and is the main point of contact for any questions or queries about engaging the public with environmental research.
Public Engagement Officer