My first presentation

On Thursday 23rd November 2023 I am going to speak in public about my research for the very first time … to say I am nervous would be a vast understatement. Anyway, this is the gist of my speech tomorrow.

Hello, I am Sharon Summers, Engagement and Knowledge Exchange Manager for the design researchers of ImaginationLancaster, based in LICA

I am undertaking a part-time PhD around engagement and knowledge exchange. Looking at how we can engage equitably with communities in order to earn trust and develop potential future collaborations.

Chris is here to talk about the engagement portal, which is an excellent resource from what I have seen. And engagement is important, because we should be proud of the work we do, it’s amazing, we should share it, shout about it, and enable impact in the world.

However, engagement isn’t dissemination, and engagement for collaboration needs other approaches, especially with communities and third sector organisations.

I’ve worked extensively with third sector organisations during my almost 6 years at Imagination. One remark made to me years ago, repeated often and by various people in different ways, is “You only come to us when you want something”. Now, that may not be a fair reflection of what we do here at the university and it was made a few years ago and things have changed since. But – there is a grain of truth in there somewhere, and if that is their perception we need to change it.

How can we earn trust with the communities – and I mean ‘communities’ in its widest sense – that we want, and need, to work with? I was at an event with the voluntary sector on Monday and one researcher mentioned that it took her two years to earn enough trust to work with one small community. She attended their meetings and got to know the people, understand their needs and motivations. She also mentioned that she knew she was very lucky to have the time to do this within her role and that it isn’t often the case with other roles and organisations.

So, part of what I am researching is engagement before the projects from a professional services point of view, the often invisible engagement carried out by professional services staff, the going and meeting people over coffee, the attending of networking events, the casual conversations that we have every day with people that allow us to listen, to attempt to understand and to earn trust so we can then go on and make the connections with relevant researchers which lead to collaborations, research, and impact.

Reading the literature I have come to realise that, because this work is challenging (if not impossible) to measure it is often dismissed – not necessarily talking about LU here but academic institutions nationally and internationally – because academia is marketized and what cannot be measured therefore has no value in a commercialised world.

That sounds very jaded doesn’t it, and that’s not what I am here to imply, or what I want to research.

What I want to do is find ways to measure and/or celebrate this type of work, show its importance. Because, in the end, true engagement is not all about numbers, it’s not about ‘bums on seats’, it’s about mutual trust and connection and understanding.

image of presentation slide