Published on March 16, 2015

Is understanding the main barrier to engagement?

Open government Participation Compass Sciencewise

By Simon Burall

Simon Burall is a Senior Associate of Involve. He has extensive experience in the fields of democratic reform, governance, public participation, stakeholder engagement, and accountability and transparency.

barrierThe National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement has released the results of their website poll exploring what barriers individual researchers identify as stopping them engaging the public in their research. The accompanying blog post notes that nearly 30% of researchers point to lack of understanding about how to do engagement well as the main barrier.

I find this surprising, as it suggests the deficit model might be appropriate in this case. By deficit model I mean that the only thing stopping researchers engaging the public is that they lack information. Fill in the deficit and all will be fine.

I suspect, however, that if you add together the other factors that people point to in the poll:  lack of reward, lack of recognition (which appears quite similar to lack of reward) and lack of funding (total 54%) and perhaps add in lack of respect of peers (total 62%) you have your real answer.  In short, it’s a question of incentives.

Motivation (spurred by understanding) is one thing; most of our experience is that culture will mash this enthusiasm into pulp. The critical work to promote public engagement is to get the incentives right, and to ensure that when the public are engaged it can make a difference (both for the public and for the person doing the engaging).

Photo credit: fedemate

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