Public engagement with research

Public engagement symbols

What is Public Engagement?

Public engagement describes the many different ways that research and its benefits are shared with members of the public. Engaged research is meaningful for both parties and encompasses interactions over any or all stages of the research process (from issue formation to evaluation and dissemination).


As the leading commissioner of UK environmental science, NERC emphasises the value of public engagement. Our Royal Charter states NERC's obligation to 'encourage public engagement and dialogue', 'communicate research outcomes' and 'generate public awareness' of the environmental science we fund. Public engagement brings benefits to research, ensuring relevance to society and a wider perspective on social and ethical implications. Similarly, public engagement is also beneficial to society through broadening attitudes, empowering people and enriching citizenship, as well as inspiring members of the public and future researchers.

Through our own public engagement with research strategy we aim to:

  • Convene informed public debate about contemporary issues in environmental science, including the ethical and social implications.
  • Inform, interest and inspire members of the public and future researchers in environmental science and the processes of research, in a way that is accessible and relevant.
  • Carry out public dialogue - external link on complex and controversial issues. Actively listening to members of the public allows NERC to make decisions that are relevant to society.

Public engagement for researchers

NERC recognise that engaging the public in your research can:

  • improve the quality of research and its impact
  • raise your profile
  • develop your skills
  • enable members of the public to act as informed citizens
  • inspire the next generation of researchers.

Public engagement is a condition of all NERC grants and fellowships, as stated in section GC20 of the NERC research grants and fellowships handbook (see the download section on this page).

Public Engagement as a Pathway to Impact

Public engagement activities are considered a pathway to potential economic and societal impacts. Researchers can request resources and time to undertake relevant public engagement activities to achieve their Pathways to Impact.

We are working to embed our public engagement within research grants (in line with the RCUK Concordat for engaging the public with research - external link) and encourage grant applicants to do this. RCUK has more information and guidance - external link about public engagement as a Pathway to Impact.

2017 Public engagement funding call: engaging environments

Following our pre-announcement on 20 April, we are inviting proposals to our Engaging Environments funding call. This consortium and capacity building stage aims to build a long-term, effective and innovative public engagement community, and support the formation of collaborative teams who will then go on, in a second stage, to bid to lead one, ambitious, large-scale project that will achieve national impact and recognition in engaging the UK public with contemporary issues of environmental science.

2016 Funding call: Engaging the UK public with the big issues of environmental science

NERC has backed 18 projects to engage the UK public with environmental science around challenging issues. Details about the Funding call are available.

Public Insights Project

NERC commissioned an independent contractor, ComRes, to undertake work that enables the research councils individually and collectively to:

  • better tailor their communications and engagement activities to be audience-led
  • track long-term trends in changing attitudes, sentiment and engagement, and use this to assess the success of activities and refine approaches as necessary.

The full Public Insights Project Report of this work can be read below:

Public Insights Project Research Report (PDF, 676KB)


Hannah King is our public engagement officer, based in the Communications & Engagement team here at NERC, and is the main point of contact for any questions or queries about engaging the public with environmental research.

Hannah King
01793 411572