3.5 Discussion: Who are the publics in 'public engagement'?

The points which I came up with for each of the posts are as follows:

1. ‘Rematerialising Mosul Museum’ by Dr. Zena Kamash

(i) I would describe the target audiences for this project as: ‘people with an interest in or connection to the history of Iraq’ (to be even more specific, this includes British Iraqi people, such as Sami, who is mentioned by name in the post), and ‘people who enjoy crafting’. You might also have observed that as the workshop was held in Oxford the audience would most likely have come from the city’s local area.

With this public engagement activity, it may have been the case that, for example, people who enjoy crafting attended the event even if they had no prior knowledge of or interest in Iraq’s history; yet, in indulging their creative hobby they would also have learned something new about Dr. Kamash’s research. Similarly, those who attended primarily because they were interested in Iraq also gained new knowledge: they, along with Dr. Kamash herself, ‘came away with a new creative skill’.

(ii) Dr. Kamash mentions two community partners. The first is Cheney School in Oxford, which provided the venue for the event. This is likely to have been a very practical partnership: a public engagement event can’t go ahead without a suitable venue which is accessible to the target audience! You’ll also have noticed that there was a creative practitioner with whom the researcher collaborated: Karin Celestine, a textile artist. In this case the community partner brought skills and knowledge which were essential to the creative format of the event, and which were outside Dr. Kamash’s own area of expertise.


2. ‘Greek Comedy in Action at Kent’ by Dr. Rosie Wyles

(i) The activities which Dr. Wyles organised in connection with her research on comic drama took several different formats, and so there were different target audience groups. The public audience mentioned first in the post could be described as ‘retired members of the local community’, who attended the workshops on Aristophanes’ Lysistrata. The second clearly-defined audience mentioned (those who attended the afternoon lectures) could be summed up as ‘teachers and pupils from secondary schools local to the University of Kent’.

You may have noticed that there were also present at the lectures ‘members of the Department’s research community’. Remember that an activity solely designed with your own research community in mind is not a form of public engagement; in this case, however, non-specialists in the form of school audiences were invited to participate in an event sharing university research, and so we can class this as public engagement with research.

The author of the post does not say who attended the evening performance. You might like to think about who would be a suitable target audience for such an event; those who attended the daytime events might also be interested in attending, but it may also appeal to other local people who enjoy going to the theatre in their spare time. 

(ii) In the opening paragraph, Dr. Wyles mentions the local branch of the University of the Third Age (U3A), which she tells us is made up of retired members of the local community. If you clicked on the link in the post to U3A’s homepage you would have noticed that this is a voluntary organisation which brings retired people together to pursue their interests and to learn new things together; it has local branches which put on events for groups of people with similar interests. Organisations like this make ideal community partners since they already have existing networks of interested individuals, and can therefore provide a way of targeting a particular audience in your local area.

You may also have wondered whether the schools mentioned were community partners here. It sounds as though the students and teachers were invited guests, so they may not necessarily have been involved in planning the event in this case. Schools can, however, be invaluable community partners if you wish to share your research with particular age groups. If you are affiliated to a university it is worth checking whether your institution has any links with specific schools in your local area, as you may be able to build on existing relationships.

It is a good idea to keep in mind this sort of analysis when you read about other examples of public engagement, and to think about it when you come to plan your own public engagement activities. We'll think more about this in Section 4.