I’m on train chugging my way to Bristol but this isn’t a pleasure trip — I’m off to fulfill an ambition. To take my mind off the strange seating position and bad wifi signal I’ve challenged myself to write a blog by the time we arrive. Mind the gap please and take care as you alight.
What’s the ambition?
I’m off to NCCPE’s Engage Academy. No they don’t run car parks, they’re the National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement, supporting excellent public engagement practice in the UK Higher Education sector. The Engage Academy (the Academy) is professional development for those working to embed high quality engagement with research.
Why am I doing the Academy?
Because for a while I’ve been asking myself “What next?”. I’ve got an MSc in science communication and buckets of experience in engagement but needed new challenges — I’ve been lucky to work in different sectors and with different audiences and stakeholders so wondered where to go next. I partly solved this last year by changing jobs, audiences and stakeholders but I also wanted to challenge myself to further improve my thinking and practice, hence the Academy.
Because it’s time. I’m fortunate to have an employer who invests in their staff for their current and future roles: amazingly this is the first time in what passes for my career (more like a series of accidents) I can say that. I’m very grateful for it and intend to grab every opportunity with both hands; before you think I’m being selfish it benefits the university too by ensuring they have a higlhy skilled workforce that can meet the needs of the institution now and into the future.
Because I want to prove my worth which can be a challenge in this sector as we don’t have a clear hierarchy/progression like academia does; Helen Featherstone and the team are looking into professionalisation with the ScoPPEs project (frankly I don’t envy them the job). While this isn’t necessarily a problem amongst ourselves as it’s a highly collaborative sector sadly some academics do still want to work with people with the equivalent of letters after their name. I’m pleased to say this view is becoming rarer.
Because I decided a while ago to become a collector of experiences and do things that take me out of my comfort zone. The Academy will make me challenge my own thinking and practice, hopefully taking both to another level.
What do I hope to get from it?
There’s always more to learn so I hope to learn some more. Having recently moved from public and schools to industrial engagement you may wonder why I’m doing something described as public engagement. I’ll let you into a little secret: the tools, techniques and thinking are the same, it’s the audience and application that changes. Engagement is an important part of impact which is an important part of the REF; every impact involves at least one form of engagement somewhere along the line. Engagement skills are needed by universities, at least until it becomes less important which I don’t think is on the horizon.
I want to listen to other people’s views and experiences, always useful when shaping your own practice. I’d also like to share my experience with others, hopefully helping them to overcome challenges.
I’d like to be improve at reflective practive so I hopefuly there’ll be some interesting ideas for this, athough making it a habit may be challenging.
A better understanding of a more strategic viewpoint: it’s time to make the shift from practitioner on the ground to more strategic thinking. While I’m sort of aware of policy documents I rarely read them (it’s not my learning style anymore) and always put the needs of the audience first, so I listen to what they need when shaping and delivering projects. It’s time to stop being a bit cynical about strategy and find out more about where it comes from, how and why it helps and perhaps how it hinders. Note: I’m absolutely not going to stop putting the audience first.
Do I have any fears?
I’m lucky that I’ve got to a point where I don’t often suffer from imposter syndrome— usually only when I have to present to colleagues but I’m sure it’ll wear off soon — so I’m not concerned about feeling I shouldn’t be in the room. I’m a bit worried that the information may be framed in a way I struggle to understand, but hopefully as it’s being running by experts in engagement about engagement that shouldn’t be an issue, or if it is it’s one I can respectfully raise and we solve together in the best traditions of engagement.
Then there’s always the feeling of being the outsider. I’ve always done jobs where I cross boundaries —researchers/school pupils; regeneration/community; engineering/industry — while it’s always been rewarding and ocassionally frustrating it can be a very lonely place when few if any do the same thing as you.
Then there’s the strategic side of things. I’ve always been one of the people on the ground running projects, solving problems, making things work, whereas to me thinking about engagement in terms of strategy and embedding excellence is very alien.
There have been some tasks to complete to prepare for the first Academy session. I began to doubt that I’d understood the question properly but then realised that if that’s your interpretation that’s as valid as everyone else’s. Fingers crossed. I know at least one other colleague is attending so I’m worried I’ve said something incorrectly but again it’s my honest interpretation and if it’s wrong then that viewpoint is a valid outcome in itself.
Did I succeed in my writing challenge?
Nearly. I managed the strutcture and draft version so just had to tidy it up and add the links, a definite improvement on my early blog writing speed. I hope to reflect further on the course over the upcoming year so check back for new knowledge and perhaps perspectives.
My views are my own and not those of my employer or NCCPE. This has been written without the aid of my lovely editor Laura so I hope it makes sense and some of her lessons have rubbed off on me. I claim my errors as my own.
Cover photo: me, all rights reserved until I fully understand how photo permissions work.