Social scientists study society, so many of them are used to involving people as participants in their research. However, public engagement is not about studying people - it is about giving them the opportunity to explore the meaning of research and shape research agendas.

Why engage with the public?

Involving the public in social science research can have a wide range of benefits: for the researchers, the organisation employing them, the public involved and society more widely.

You can benefit from public engagement in several ways:

  • Engaging key groups at an early stage can help shape your research agenda so that it is more meaningful and useful to these groups. As a result, it is likely to have more of an impact.
  • Engaging key groups can also help you develop your methodologies and ensure you are asking the most useful questions.
  • Early engagement can make it easier to recruit focus group participants or survey respondents.
  • Public engagement can be an enjoyable and motivational experience, as it raises your profile and helps you develop new skills

Reasons for engaging with the public extend beyond the benefits to the research and researchers themselves. Some argue that if research is publicly funded, society has a right to shape research agendas and be involved in decisions about how discoveries are used.

In the case of young people, public engagement is an effective way of stimulating interest in a subject and encouraging young people to consider research careers. This benefits the individual students, and society as a whole, as young people are encouraged to become more skilled and engaged citizens.

Guidance and resources

Our guide to public engagement includes step-by-step advice on how to undertake public engagement.