Public engagement is a concept that encompasses a range of activities and definitions, and in different ways describes a more active approach, relationship and type of activity between researchers and the general public than traditional science communication.

A researcher in discussion with the public at a science café during the Gothenburg Science Festival. Photo: VA (Public & Science)

AAAS, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, describes the term in this way:

Public engagement with science describes intentional, meaningful interactions that provide opportunities for mutual learning between scientists and members of the public. Mutual learning refers not just to the acquisition of knowledge, but also to increased familiarity with a breadth of perspectives, frames, and world views.*

There are several reasons to undertake public engagement. Not least, it is about creating opportunities to participate in the development of civil society, both in terms of knowledge and capacity-building. It is also about understanding the cultural relevance of science in society and about recognising the importance of multiple perspectives and multi-disciplinary knowledge for scientific progress.

Public engagement can be a valuable way to increase participation in civil society and, in many contexts, shares much in common with participatory democracy, which in turn is seen by many as a complement to representative democracy.

Public engagement is an important step in making science and research more accessible and there are many opportunities to participate in the management, development and knowledge-building of this area.

Science festivals, Researchers’ Nights, science centres and museums, individual universities and research funders have all, in different ways, encouraged greater public engagement during the past two to three decades. In knowledge terms, it is a relatively new area, evaluation is rare and not without its challenges from a methodological point of view.

Further developments in public engagement has been financed through the most recent EU framework programmes and the concept of ”Responsible Research and Innovation” is also part of Horizon 2020, which in different ways, encourages interaction between various stakeholders, including the general public.

* ’Why public engagement matters’, AAAS, last updated 17 June 2016, downloaded 20 June 2016 from

Calls for proposals

In the ”Science with and for society” work programme there are a number of calls relating to public engagement, see the list of calls for proposals in the SwafS programme.

Current and forthcoming calls are also outlined in the SwafS work programme for 2016–17.

Within Horizon 2020 there are a number of calls for proposals in programmes other than SwafS in which RRI perspectives are particularly prominent. Calls for the period 2016-2017 are collated in the report on RRI opportunities in Horizon 2020.

Ideas for public engagement activities can be found here.

Sources of further information and resources

RRI Toolkit/public engagement – here you can search for resources and guidance on how public engagement can be practically integrated into your research.

Horizon 2020’s web pages about public engagement.

Sources of help and advice

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