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Evaluating public engagement

Evaluating your public engagement (PE) activities is crucial in enabling you to demonstrate their impact. It is a process of collecting information and evidence in order to reflect upon your work. It can be particularly helpful when doing a long term project as it can help you learn from an experience and improve for the future.

It can be very easy to underestimate the time, effort and resources involved in evaluation. You may find you need to allocate a particular person to oversee it or, if working on a larger project, budget for external help. Allowing for evaluation within a research grant application is important. Considering evaluation in the initial planning stages of public engagement activities will make you more likely to collect useable data and evidence.

Types of evaluation

The type of evaluation you use is very much dependent on your target audience, engagement activity and what you would like to find out about its impact.

If you would like to find out generally about your project then traditional methods such as questionnaires, surveys, google forms and visitors books can be really effective. However, if you would like to get a broader feel of an impact or have a specific question to answer you may like to consider other approaches such as:

  • Interviews
  • Focus groups
  • Video diaries
  • Postcards, graffiti walls, feed-back bunting or similar
  • Analysing social media i.e. tracking twitter hashtags or sharing of images etc.

Use whatever media would suit you and your participants best; be it pen and paper, computers or ping pong balls. Don’t be afraid to get inventive, and think up an evaluation technique that is unique to your project!

Survey top tips

When doing surveys or creating questionnaires there are some key things to consider;

  • What do you want to find out?
  • What type of survey would be most appropriate to do this? Questionnaire, online form, interview?
  • Do you want qualitative or quantitative data? Therefore, what type of questions do you need to use? Multiple choice, open ended?
  • Think carefully about the wording of your questions - are they prompting or probing? Do you want them to be?
  • Sampling – how will you ensure your data fairly represents your audience?
  • Analysis – what will you do with the data? How will you present it in a useful form? Are there data protection issues you need to consider?

If you would like more comprehensive guidance on how best to go about creating and doing surveys you may find this questionnaire recipe book helpful. It has a step by step process of how to do surveys from starting aims all the way to analysis. Or if you would would like some example questions to use as a starting point please look at this question bank (PDF , 334kb).

Further information and guidance

A very useful source of help is the national centre for public engagement web pages. They have a dedicated PE evaluation section which can be a great place to start if you‘re thinking about or need to do some evaluation.

If you would like more practical guidelines on evaluation and how to do it you may find the Manchester evaluation planning guide useful, as a relatively short document. For a broader view of evaluation with additional information such as its benefits you may like to read the Manchester beacon PE evaluation guide or the RCUK evaluation guide.

For information about how to go about public engagement activities please see our public engagement page.