Public Engagement in research is important.
The Concordat for Engaging the Public with Research was developed by the UK’s research funding bodies. Signatories of the Concordat, including Imperial College London, commit to promoting the benefits of their research to the wider public, thereby increasing understanding of how research works and extending the reach and impact of their research findings.
"Public engagement is an essential way for today’s universities to connect with society and earn their ‘license to operate" – Sir Keith O’Nions, former President and Rector of Imperial College London, December 2010
There are many ways to deliver public engagement and many reasons why universities should be actively engaged. Public engagement can:
- inform, inspire and educate the public by making work with Higher Education more accessible;
- collaborate by working in partnership with the public to solve problems together, drawing on each other’s expertise;
- consult by actively listening to the public’s view, concerns and insights.
OPAL and Public Engagement
OPAL works with all sectors of society but local work is largely focused in areas of deprivation and with disadvantaged communities. Activities include workshops, school visits, conferences for educators, field-based studies for community groups and longer-term research projects within the community.
Visitors to the OPAL website can find a wide range of online, interactive learning facilities, from identification galleries and quizzes to the 'Learning Lab', an eLearning tool developed for young people.
OPAL is a really remarkable programme that has given people an experience of science that has been interesting and engaging. It has produced an overview of the environment that professional scientists alone could not have provided. It has shown the educational value of encouraging children to go out into their local environment and study topics important to all our lives.
OPAL also provides a varied suite of free learning materials and school curriculum-linked packs that can be downloaded from the website.
Alongside its main website, OPAL has also funded the development of the online nature community iSpot, which helps people to develop and share identification skills, and the free online nature recording toolkit Indicia, which helps organisations to set up and manage their own wildlife recording schemes.
OPAL has employed and regularly works with social scientists to explore and evaluate people's engagement with the project and the mechanisms through which its activities are delivered (including scientists, students, volunteers and other organisations).
The social science research is intended to bridge some of the gaps between research and practice in science communication and arrive at a sociological understanding of the issues arising from participation in citizen science research.
"OPAL is a really remarkable programme that has given people an experience of science that has been interesting and engaging. It has produced an overview of the environment that professional scientists alone could not have provided. It has shown the educational value of encouraging children to go out into their local environment and study topics important to all our lives." – The Earl of Selborne
What participants say about our impact
“I was awarded 'Most Dedicated Teacher' for STEM (Science, technology, engineering and maths) last year and part of the reason for that is I've brought OPAL in, and we’ve used OPAL in lots of different activities... We show them real-life biology outside, it’s not textbook, it's not PowerPoint, it's the real world.”
Head of Science, Blessed Edward Oldcorne Catholic College, Worcester
“Through OPAL I have learnt about the different creatures that live in the pond and that we should not throw garbage into the pond because the creatures won't survive and I don't want them getting stuck in the rubbish. I care about these little creatures because they are part of nature and there is a need to protect them so that they may continue to exist.”
Haleema Kabir, Age 7 (Sheffield)