Engaging the general public in academic research has become a more regular occurrence for academics. It’s a bit of the job which allows us to become more than teachers within the academy, but allows us to communicate with those outside. With the requirement from many funding bodies to include pathways to impact in grant bids and the introduction of impact case studies in the UK’s Research Excellence Framework, there has been more interest in thinking through how public engagement may help with creating impact beyond the academy. Moreover, there are academics who take an ethical stance, feeling that their work should be easily accessible to people, beyond their peers and students, irrespective of any funding bids or government frameworks.
The figure of the Media Don has become more high profile, with a few academics reaching the dizzying heights of household fame largely through fronting television series, or writing for the general public. Yet public engagement isn’t all about viewing figures. The term also includes academics who wish to engage the general public in their research from the beginning of the project, not necessarily as subjects but as partners. These projects embed public engagement into the research creating studies that creatively invite participation as researchers, advisers, participants and champions.
I’ve been interested in public engagement for some time and find it’s an area in which I’m continually learning. Whether you have done loads of it, or are interested in exploring this area for the first time, please join me in sharing ideas, projects and challenges.
Dr. Sara Houston is Acting Deputy Head of Dance at University of Roehampton, UK. As a dance specialist she led a research project examining the experience of dancing with the neurodegenerative condition Parkinson’s, in conjunction with English National Ballet (2010 – 2015). Her work won her a BUPA Foundation Prize in 2011 and she was a Finalist in the National Public Engagement Awards in 2014.
As a National Teaching Fellow (2014) she has always found synergies between her research and teaching. Passionate about public engagement she has taken her research all round the world speaking to people with Parkinson’s and their families, dance artists and dance companies who would like to facilitate work with people with Parkinson’s and other stakeholders such as medical professionals and students interested in the arts.
Sara has become a spokesperson to the media with her work featuring in tabloid and broadsheet newspapers, radio shows such as The Sunny and Shay Show and The Wireless and television shows such as BBC Breakfast, BBC World Health, BBC Inside Out, Channel 4 news, Diversity Live, How to Beat Ageing amongst others. Her book Dancing with Parkinson’s is published by Intellect Books, 2019.