Public engagement guidelines for researchers, scholars and scientists
The purpose of these guidelines is to support the inclusive engagement of stakeholders in research, scholarship and science. Stakeholders include the researchers, scholars and scientists (hereafter referred to as researchers); the public and communities they serve, the media in all its forms, and the organisations in which researchers work: tertiary education organisations, Crown Research Institutes and other Crown entities, local and central government, independent research organisations, not-for-profit research organisations, and the private sector.
The guidelines are based on three principles:
- that society benefits from being engaged and informed about new knowledge and its application;
- that differing contexts of engagement bring different obligations; and
- that acting with professionalism and transparency are necessary to build and maintain public trust.
Engaged and informed society
Society supports the discovery and application of knowledge in order to advance and protect its citizens’ wellbeing. This support occurs directly through publicly-funded research or indirectly through public commitment to laws and institutions that facilitate protection, application and use of knowledge in society’s interests.
The ability to uphold the free flow of ideas and information, as well as fostering an open, informed debate on matters of public interest, is central to building and maintaining a democratic and inclusive society. Further, citizens expect to participate in discussion and debate on important public issues. A better-informed community, that is comfortable with research and new and innovative ideas, will have greater capacity and capability to critically assess and absorb new knowledge, and make well-informed decisions.
In these guidelines, knowledge and its application in the public interest (the interests of people generally) are interpreted broadly to reflect New Zealand’s history and culture, and all perspectives that can contribute to the nation’s future wellbeing. Opportunities for public engagement may differ between research disciplines, and can to some extent depend on the type of research, whether investigative, mission- or industry-led, or where there are important specific knowledge systems such as mātauranga Māori with the potential to enrich and add new dimensions to many fields of intellectual endeavour of value to society . Engagement can be seen as a shared responsibility where the research community, government funders, media and the public all need to engage to achieve results.
The public may also participate in shaping the context in which research questions gain relevance. Some research projects already use co-design and user participation. Many research studies seek to engage with communities and learn from them. Partnerships with Māori communities that extend well beyond the research project are more likely to result in benefits to the Māori communities involved as well as the researchers.
 The Royal Society of New Zealand is committed to entering into an ongoing discussion with Māori researchers and those engaged in research in Māori domains to explore such matters in a wider context than these guidelines allow, and to inform a review of these guidelines after January 2018
Engaged and informed society – researchers should:
 e.g. from the New Zealand Science Media Centre, www.sciencemediacentre.co.nz, or in-house communications advisors
|Context and obligations
Research in New Zealand occurs in a range of settings – tertiary education organisations, Crown Research Institutes and other Crown entities, local and central government, independent research organisations, not-for-profit research organisations, the private sector, and through sole practice and volunteering. Some researchers operate in multiple settings. Each setting has its own statutory obligations, revenue sources, operational environment, and contractual and employment arrangements, all of which affect the responsibilities and processes that researchers need to consider when engaging with the public.
For example, a characteristic of universities defined under the Education Act 1989 is that they accept a role as critic and conscience of society, which recognises the freedom of academic staff and students to question and test received wisdom, to put forward new ideas and to state controversial or unpopular opinions, while acting within the law and at the highest ethical standards.
In universities and other settings, such as Crown Research Institutes and the private sector, the interests of society are often well served by legitimate protections, such as intellectual property rights, for certain sorts of knowledge.
The Official Information Act applies to a wide range of public sector agencies, including universities and Crown Research Institutes, and the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act applies to local government agencies. The Privacy Act also imposes obligations on a wide range of public and private organisations.
Researchers may also be bound by a code of ethical conduct and are bound by any employment contract they have signed. They are also bound by any confidentiality or other agreements related to their research activities, irrespective of whether those agreements are signed only personally, only by their employer, or by both.
Regardless of setting, researchers have an obligation to work within the principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi (the Treaty of Waitangi) and its application to research as set out in Vision Mātauranga . Principles of Kaupapa Māori  and Te Ara Tika  provide important frameworks for the development of tikanga-based ethics and effective Māori engagement.Even though many employers embrace the responsibility to provide support and resources for their staff to engage with the public, in some circumstances there may be tension between contractual arrangements and obligations, and the wider public interest. It is in the interests of researchers and their employers to have a shared understanding of the employer’s policies and procedures for engagement, and how to resolve issues when they arise. Mutual trust and shared understanding are central to effective relationships.
Context and obligations – researchers should:
 e.g. from their employer, professional body, membership society in their discipline, senior colleagues, the Royal Society of New Zealand or their legal advisor, as appropriate to the circumstances
|Professionalism, transparency and trust
Researchers, as members of a professional community, have an implicit obligation to act in society’s long-term interest through the integrity of their work and engagement. Researchers who fail to display professionalism may contribute to damaging the trust of the public in the value of research generally.
Engaging with the public in a way that builds trust through professionalism and transparency will benefit the wider research community, and in turn facilitate stronger relationships with the public and greater use of shared knowledge in the public interest.
|Professionalism, transparency and trust – researchers should:
Guidelines first published July 2016 and will be reviewed in 2018.