How to Get Started?

Effective engagement takes time; to make the most of the time you and others invest in it, your engagement should be carefully planned well in advance, with your research objectives (or impacts) in mind.

STEPS (jump to):

1. Increase your visibility, build your networks
2. Make a plan
3. Clarify your research objectives, identify your research users
4. Think about ways to engage these groups throughout your research project
5. Outputs, activities and methods
6. What does success look like?

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1. Increase your visibility, build your networks

Make sure your online profile is up to date.

Make sure your research outputs are open access. Upload your research to LSE Research Online, the institutional repository for LSE, which will host any research produced by LSE staff, including articles, working papers, books, book chapters, reports, discussion papers, research blogs and datasets.

The Library will arrange open access for you where possible, including payment of any fees.

Think about your presence on social media. Twitter is a great way to build a wide network if you tweet regularly (i.e. once a day) and follow relevant colleagues, sources and practitioners. But always remember tweets are public. Look for opportunities to contribute to LSE’s popular blogs, linking your research and expertise with contemporary topics of debate, or perhaps offering to write a book review on your areas of expertise.

It is important to go beyond your existing academic networks to create new opportunities to share your research.

  • Attend relevant events (take a look at the LSE Public Lecture Programme, which hosts many prominent thinkers from across the world)
  • Link up with others working in your area, whether at LSE or elsewhere
  • Let the KEI Integrated Service know about your areas of interest so they can flag up opportunities to engage with businesses, media, policy makers, schools, museums or any other organisations.

Engagement activities don’t have to be linked to a specific project, in fact they could help you define future research questions.  

2. Make a plan

It is important to note that knowledge exchange and engagement activities are not necessarily worthwhile in and of themselves. Doing things for the sake of it, without having really thought through who you want to reach and why, can be time-consuming and labour-intensive, and produce very little benefit. Effective engagement does take time; to make the most of the time you and others invest in it, your engagement should be carefully planned well in advance, with your research objectives (or impacts) in mind. A targeted plan will help you do the right things, rather than trying to do everything. The KEI Integrated Service is here to help, so get in touch with us and we can guide you through the process.

Download this KEI plan template.

3. Clarify your research objectives, identify your research users

At the heart of an effective engagement plan is a clear idea of who you want to engage with and why.

How do you identify these groups? A good place to start is to clarify the aims of your research, and the possible impact it could have. As well as contributing and challenging knowledge, what other effects do you want your work to have, where and why?

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Who uses my research, other than academics? Who do I want to use it?
  • Who will be involved in the project as partners (those who contribute to the research in kind or in cash), collaborators (those who conduct the research with or alongside you) or participants (those who contribute as subjects)?
  • If it is feasible and appropriate for them to do so, could any of these groups or individuals help shape my initial research questions in ways that help ensure the relevance and utility of my work to them?
  • What new insights might the project reveal?
  • What could change as a result of the project, and for whom?
  • How can I tell whether my research has actually been useful?

Researchers who have been successful at defining purpose:

  • discuss their research ideas, designs, possible stakeholders and emerging findings with others;
  • put themselves in another person’s position and ask why they should be interested in the research;
  • list the reasons for and benefits that could arise from engagement (such as finding a collaborator, advocate, or research partner; testing out ideas in a real-life situation; influencing business, policymakers and practitioners; or testing different ways of sharing ideas.)

Build up a list of all those who could benefit from your research, who might have lay expertise that could help to shape the direction of it, or who might be in a position to help advance the aims of your research. For example:

  • Civil society
  • Economies/Businesses
  • Health sector
  • Schools or education groups
  • Arts and heritage organisations or practitioners

Think about impact from a top-down and bottom-up perspective. For example, effective engagement on a project could include working with a small group of policy makers in a specific area who have the power to make a change, but also wider “public” engagement with those citizens who would be affected by the change and could lobby for (or against) it.

Think as broadly as possible, but be specific. Don’t use “the public” to refer to an undifferentiated group of people; think about what you mean by that: your activities will be more effective if they are targeted at the right people.

Look through some examples of audiences and beneficiaries of impact. If you’re not sure, get in touch –it helps to talk this through with others who have different perspectives, particularly those who aren’t experts in your field.

4. Think about ways to engage these groups throughout your research project

Effective engagement work starts with the who and works backwards. Next you need to think about how and when you can engage with all those groups, organisations or individuals you have identified as potential partners, users or audiences for your work.

Set some objectives for your engagement activities, based on the objectives of your project. Start by breaking down further the reasons why you want to engage them, and why they would want to be engaged.

Ask yourselfWhy do I want to reach them?

Motivations might include:

  • Responding to societal needs
  • Collaborating, innovating – creating knowledge together (e.g. co-production or citizen science) or applying knowledge together
  • Consulting – learning from others
  • Inspiring, informing – sharing what you do with a wider audience, building awareness of the research among a defined audience.
  • Changing attitudes or behaviour, influencing – support people in making better decisions in their lives

Ask yourselfWhy should they be interested? Why is this particularly significant right now?

This will help you tailor activities to your audience’s interests and needs and ensure that their involvement is as meaningful as possible. If you don’t know what your potential partners’ or audiences’ motivations for engaging with you are, ask them! The objectives of an engagement project should be as clear as possible, to as many of those involved as possible, from as early as possible.

For each stage of your research project consider whether there is an opportunity to engage any of the groups you have identified and how they, or you, would benefit from the engagement at that stage. Remember activities can take place at any stage of a research programme, from shaping its scope in the start-up or preliminary findings stage through to project end. Remember, too, that engagement is a two-way process; the groups you are engaging with should have the opportunity to feedback and influence subsequent activities or research.

5. Outputs, activities and methods

Don’t just think about your outputs and activities, but about how you are going to deliver them and how they will reach the intended groups. In your plan, clearly link each output or activity back to identified target partners, collaborators, users or audiences.

Here are some examples of the kinds of outputs, activities and methods you could consider. These examples are given here just to get you thinking, but we would always recommend speaking to us for more bespoke guidance before you decide on the best way to engage your research users. You will always have budget and time constraints, so prioritize the most effective activities, with the most influential or important groups.

  • Events (including workshops, public lectures or discussions, hackathons, town meetings, citizens’ juries)
  • Digital (including online tools, websites, surveys/polls)
  • Blog posts
  • Short documentary films (either as part of dissemination or to engage research users in the project whilst it is happening)
  • Animations
  • Reports, executive summaries, infographics
  • Podcasts (e.g. appearing on a long-running series)
  • Developing teaching or other information resources based on the research for use in e.g. schools, community teaching or online learning.
  • Media engagement (if your research is timely and includes a news hook) including press releases, media briefings, op-eds
  • Policy engagement (connecting with policy makers, submitting evidence to parliamentary enquiries, writing policy briefings)
  • Social media campaigns (e.g. via Twitter)

Browse some more examples of methods and activities for supporting KEI or view these success stories.

Think about your key messages what is it that you want to communicate? How does this core message differ for each target partner, collaborator, user or audience, and at each stage of your project? Keep in mind the importance of language and the need to communicate in a way that is accessible to and respectful of those you are trying to reach.

Share preliminary findings, don’t wait for the end result. You don’t always need to wait until you have finished your data collection or analysis for your work to be useful to non-academics. Interim results are often just as interesting to them, and having external comments and feedback on these might shape the subsequent stages of your work in ways that improve the final outputs.

Consider your own preferred communication styles and skills in the area of public engagement. Your activities will be far more successful if you are comfortable delivering them.

Be prepared to change. Flexibility can be built into applications for funding. Adapt to the needs of the audience rather than rigidly sticking to plans. Ask yourself: Are relevant outputs reaching all target partners, collaborators, users or audiences identified in my plan? Are they all engaging actively and meaningfully with these? Are they finding the process useful? Are they enjoying it? Am I?! If not, why not, and what can I do differently to change this?

6. What does success look like?

Build in evaluation measures at the start of your project so that you'll know if and how you have succeeded in meeting your objectives.

Make sure that your objectives are:

  • Specific about what is to be achieved.
  • Measurable, so you can test whether the objective has been met.
  • Achievable, within the time and budget constraints.
  • Relevant to the project and its aims.
  • Time-bound, with set deadlines.

To help you do this think about:

  • Conducting pre‑intervention assessments (e.g. pre‑surveys, focus groups) to collect baseline data sufficient to support convincing demonstration of change. If this data is already in the public domain, collect it.
  • Recording as much detail as possible about your dissemination or communication activities: make a note of what, when, where, who, how many?
  • Requesting that all stakeholders, users and beneficiaries cite your work when they use it, using the DOI (or equivalent identifier) if possible. You may wish to sign up for an ORCID identifier for yourself.
  • Collecting records of references to your research, particularly in official documentation; further statements or testimonies; feedback from follow‑on surveys; evidence from third‑party evaluations.
  • Carrying out post-project evaluation to demonstrate change from pre-intervention assessment.

We can give advice on metrics and how to capture both qualitative and quantitative information about engagement. If you think you will need help to monitor, evaluate and gather evidence of your success, build this into your plans and (where possible) funding applications.

See more examples of KEI metrics and indicators.

Think about how you can build on successful activities.

Ask yourself: how can I sustain and maximize any ongoing engagement with and impacts of my research outputs?

You should plan to:

  • Continue to disseminate research results and publicise impacts wherever possible, including keeping stakeholders up to date with developments.
  • Continue to monitor ongoing impacts. Where they exist, make use of relevant stakeholder or other third-party evaluations of these.