Case Study: Sarah Morton

Centre for Research on Families and Relationships, University of Edinburgh

Sarah has worked at the Centre for Research on Families and Relationships (CRFR) for nine years, taking a lead on a range of activities that aim to make research more accessible beyond the academy, and in building networks of academics, policy makers and practitioners to improve knowledge exchange. At CRFR, her responsibilities for the communication of research findings and collaborations have enabled have her to interact with external audiences including policy makers and practitioners from a range of sectors.

Part of the work has been to build a network of those interested in families and relationships across sectors, and to develop partnerships with non-academic agencies. Her work also involves running a blog and working with the press. She recently ran an interactive quiz to help the public engage with a large survey about family life.

We do a lot of collaborative research with voluntary organisations which means that projects are designed in a way that they will be useful when they are completed. Our voluntary sector partners then use the research to inform their own development and to lobby for change on issues they represent.

Sarah and her team support academic staff in their interaction with non-academics, through editing briefings into plain English, running training courses on communication skills, and increasingly helping people to think about how they can demonstrate that their work has impact.

For many people whose background is purely academic it can be a big leap to engage with a range of audiences with different expectations. My team help people do this in a way that enables the best communication and possible collaboration

Sarah’s public engagement is funded by costing the activities into funding applications. She also feels that there are more opportunities available now for people to receive support for public engagement. Working with a dedicated events staff member also makes a great difference to Sarah, assisting with the organisation of activities, but there is a need to cost it into grants to allow scope for this.

Sarah has seen the benefits of public engagement to careers in her department. All the academic directors in the Centre for Research on Families and Relationships have received Chairs as a result of their work at the centre, but Sarah admits that although public engagement is an area that is growing and becoming more recognised there isn’t as yet a dedicated career path for those involved.