You can spend a lot of time creating engagement activities or developing materials to communicate your research to a broader audience. But what are you getting out of it? To find out if your efforts are worth it, you’ll need to evaluate.
Evaluation is the analysis of data or other information that tells you how well your science communication project reached the goals you set out to achieve. If you got funding for public engagement, or if you want to apply for funding in the future, evaluating your projects will also give you useful data to demonstrate that you were effective in sharing your science.
- Plan evaluation before you start. This will help you think about all the different components of your project and figure out how you can measure the impact. If you leave it until the end, you might not even have all the information you need for evaluation. (Example: You can’t report visitor numbers if you didn’t plan for a way to count them.)
- Set aside time and resources. Preparing for evaluation and analysing the data you collected also takes time and resources. Make sure to budget that into your project.
- Use multiple methods to evaluate your project. Using more than one method (e.g. a survey and a simple visitor count) gives you insight into multiple aspects of the project. Keep it in scale with the project, though. No need for a huge survey to evaluate a small project.
Plan ahead to measure your impact
The biggest tip from the list above is to plan ahead. Think about what you want to achieve with your science communication activity, and how you’re going to reach that goal. By assigning clear objectives to your project, you’ll start to figure out what you need to measure to show the impact of your work.
One way to start thinking about your project is by asking yourself what you’re hoping to achieve for yourself and for your audience. To help you wrap your head around it, you can use an impact grid.
Who uses this?
- Any big exciting science communication projects you can name are probably planning their evaluation in a somewhat similar way. Have a look at some projects that received from Wellcome for public engagement. To receive this funding, they will have had to plan how to measure the success of their project, even before they started.
- Even for research funding, engagement activities are often taken into account, and the better your evaluation plan, the stronger your proposal is. You can find out more about evaluating from the National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement (UK).
- Finally, your university evaluates not only their own institute-wide public engagement activities, but is also interested in the projects that you run to get people involved with your research directly. If you evaluate your projects, you can let them know how you’re doing!
This article is partly based on the evaluation workshop that took place ahead of the 2019 London SciComm Symposium.