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Part 2: Defining your audience

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Ways to explore and describe publics and communitiesA colourful infographic showing three different ways to explore and describe publics and communities: 1. Text that describes examples of the different ‘hats’ people wear including Family Member; Teacher; Customer; School Pupil; Community Leader and Activist with 8 small colourful images of hats including a bobble hat; baseball cap; mortar board and chef’s hat. 2. Text descriptions of examples of demographic attributes including Income Level; Ethnicity; Place or Region; Gender; Age and Disability Status together with a graphical image of people of different ethnicities. 3. Text examples of ways to describe groups or individuals with different interests, attitudes or perceptions: Gamers; Environmentalists; History Buffs; Festival Goers; Vaccine Hesitant; Crafters/ Knitters; Book Lovers; Climate Change Skeptic and Football Fans together with small colourful images to accompany the text (book with a heart; syringe; festival tent; balls of wool; global warming and a football).

Download the infographic as a PDF

Audience or Participant?

One aspect to think about is the role that your target public or community group(s) will take as part of the engagement activity. This might include:

  • Audiences: coming along to a show, event, exhibition, festival or schools’ activity.
  • Viewer/ Reader: engaging with the content via a film, animation [link to animation resource], online or printed content.
  • Participant: actively participating and influencing the activity in some way. For example: through co-curated or co-produced engagement; Citizen Science and crowdsourcing and/or influencing the shaping, conduct or direction of research in some way, such as though public dialogue.

Different hats

Each and every single one of us wears different hats over the course of a day, a week and throughout our lifetimes. So one way to think about the public audiences or participants – is to think about what hats that people wear; and which hat wearers are you aiming to engage?

This could be: customer; service user; patient; carer; voter; parent; pupil or lifelong learner; community member; voter, volunteer or activist.


Or you can describe the publics and communities via demographics – and this might include one or more of the following: place/region/location, age, ethnicity, gender, sex, economic status, level of education, income level or employment.

Interests, attitudes of perceptions

Alternatively, the focus might be on individuals, groups or communities with particular interests, attitudes or perceptions.

You don’t need to select one single defined group – you might target different groups – but the key will be to define and articulate who these are.

Furthermore, if you are engaging different groups, it is good practice to have a key target group in mind. This does not mean that it will only appeal to that group – there will likely be a broader demographic than this that can engage with the content - but it does give you a focus for how to pitch your tone and content and level of information.

Where possible, you can ‘layer’ your content, so that it’s adaptable to different audiences or participants. In this case, your core content is geared towards a particular demographic or community, but you can have additional content available for other groups. For example, if you are engaging with the public directly, you can adjust your verbal communications accordingly, depending on who you are talking to at that time.

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Exploring public and community engagement audiences or participants

One very useful exercise to do, when planning a public engagement activity, is to open up your mind as to which individuals, groups and communities the project could potentially engage and only then go on to select which group or groups you wish to engage. So you think divergently before the convergent thinking sets in.

To do this – you can complete this editable downloadable template:

This is particularly key with regard to the importance of diversifying the publics and communities that universities and researchers engage with as part of equality, diversity and inclusion. Too often in public engagement are the ‘usual suspects’ repeatedly engaged and the underserved or seldom engaged remain so.

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