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Part 1: Background

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Why think about who you want to engage?

Why engage (i.e. what is the purpose/ objectives of the activity) and Who to engage are two key questions you and your colleagues will want to think about when planning public engagement work.

Repeat after me:

There is no such thing as the ‘General Public.’

There is no such thing as the ‘General Public.’

There is no such thing as the ‘General Public.’

Thinking about who you want to engage is critical to planning meaningful engagement work. As the resulting activities will need to be audience appropriate to result in the desired outcomes, and for all your valuable time and resource, and that of the audience, to be spent wisely. By saying the ‘General Public’ you are effectively targeting every person in the world!

By thinking about who to engage and being as specific and targeted as you can, will be a key factor in the development, planning and delivery of your engagement work. This goes hand in hand with thinking about why you want to engage. It’s a bit more organic than a linear process, with both the ‘why’ and the ‘who’ feeding into development of the activity at the same time; and then thinking about the ‘how’ (i.e. the engagement approach/ format).

Focusing on the ‘who’ increases the chances of achieving the changes and benefits (i.e. the outcomes) you hope to have through your engagement work. For example, if the aim is to increase understanding – then it will be important to think about who to engage if you want to see those outcomes materialise, as opposed to reaching a group who are already very well-informed. By focusing on a specific groups or community from the outset will enable you to shape your engagement work appropriately.

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Who are the ‘Public’ in Public Engagement?

The richness of public engagement work is engaging with and hearing perspectives from people of different walks of life.

The ‘public’ in ‘public engagement’ can be defined as individuals (children, young people or adults), groups or a particular community (folk with a commonality such place; norms; behaviours; practice; identity; interests or otherwise) often without a ‘formal relationship’ with the University (such as employees or students). Sometimes it’s a bit easier to say, which groups are not the public in public engagement:

  • Other academics and researchers are not considered to be ‘publics’; and typically neither are the University’s students but these cohorts can be involved in the development and delivery of engagement activities. Also, activities where the primary purpose is to encourage young people to apply to the University of Warwick generally fall outside of public engagement work. However, this group is a valid audience for Widening Participation & Access activities and student recruitment.
  • Those with a direct professional interest in the work of the University, such as policy makers, and professionals working in health care, business and industry are not typically target audiences in public engagement work and tend to fall under the umbrella of policy, business or professional engagement.

That said, some projects can aim to engage with target publics/ communities and those with a professional stake in the work, such as a policy makers, health care professionals etc. The key will be to ensure that the activities are geared appropriately for each target group; and that public and community voices are not lost or undervalued, compared to those engaging with a professional purpose.

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Part 1: Background

  • Why think about who you want to engage?
  • Who are the ‘Public’ in Public Engagement?

Part 2: Defining your audience

  • Ways to explore and describe publics and communities
  • Exploring public and community engagement audiences or participants

Part 3: Working with your audience

  • Reaching your audiences
  • Values, Ethics, Safeguarding & Inclusion
  • Evaluation