Public engagement, outreach and widening participation

School childrenThis toolkit is for University staff and students looking for guidance on public engagement, widening participation and outreach and the differences between these activities.

This page covers:

  • Public engagement, widening participation and outreach – what are the differences?
  • Practical issues to consider when organising events for children and young people
  • Getting started

Public engagement, widening participation and outreach – what are the differences?

The key difference between public engagement, widening participation and outreach events is the target audience. The Public Engagement Team can advise on organising events aimed at the general public and families. The Widening Participation and Outreach Teams specialise in events or programmes aimed at schools.

  • Public engagement is defined as - ‘the myriad of ways in which the activity and benefits of higher education and research can be shared with the public. Engagement is by definition a two-way process, involving interaction and listening, with the goal of generating mutual benefit’.
  • Outreach activities - aim to create a close working relationship between schools, colleges and the University of Sheffield, working together to help their students identify and pursue the Higher Education opportunities that are available to them. At the University there are central and faculty Outreach and Widening Participation Teams which target schools/pupils. These teams work with the Office for Fair Access (OFFA).
  • Widening participation aims to identify and support the ‘most able, least likely’ to progress to high education. The Widening Participation Research and Evaluation Unit monitors and evaluates the University’s outreach and student support activities and delivers institution-specific research about the impact of the University’s widening participation and outreach activities.

Practical issues to consider when organising events for children and young people

If your event is aimed at a family audience, remember to include children in your delivery and activities. The duration of the interaction with a family group is often influenced by the attention span of the younger members. Make sure you pitch your event correctly and allow for it to be interesting to a range of ages.

If your event is a stand at an exhibition or one where people pass by, you will need to develop a hook or something to catch their eye and make them stop. Develop key messages, conversation openers and closers, and have simple explanations for complex ideas.

You may need to have a range of activities available during your event and you will need to include some practical elements. If your event is a lecture, you might want to ask the audience a question or invite children on to the stage to help with the event. Craft activities, interactive IT equipment and giving out take away materials help attract and retain younger audiences.

If you want to work with groups of school children, you need to allow a long lead in time to be able to negotiate a suitable time. Your activity will also need link to the school curriculum in some way.

You may need to add extra safety control measures if you are expecting a large number of children at your event. Schools usually require a risk assessment when visiting campus, the Outreach Team have templates for different types of events.

Remember that anyone under 18 is a child under UK law. If your event involves regular unsupervised contact with children you may need to carry out a DBS check. Ask your Faculty HR Contact to check if you are not sure.

You may need extra people to staff your event and supervise activities.

Getting started

If you want to do a public engagement event aimed at a family audience or children we suggest getting in touch with the relevant outreach or widening participation staff at the University for advice – contact the Outreach Team.

There are a number of schemes aimed at attracting students from certain schools or backgrounds with traditionally low participation in higher education rates. You or your colleagues may also have links to local schools that may allow you to undertake some research or engagement with children in the school setting. See the Outreach Programme for further details of the University's current schemes. 

If you need extra staff at your event, we suggest getting in touch with Sheffield Volunteering in the Students' Union or asking your department about student ambassadors.