Segmenting Publics

Barnett, Clive and Mahony, Nick (2011). Segmenting Publics. National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement, Bristol.


This research synthesis was commissioned by the National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement (NCCPE) and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) to examine audience segmentation methods and tools in the area of public engagement. It provides resources for assessing the ways in which segmentation tools might be used to enhance the various activities through which models of public engagement in higher education are implemented. Understanding the opinions, values, and motivations of members of the public is a crucial feature of successful engagement. Segmentation methods can offer potential resources to help understand the complex set of interests and attitudes that the public have towards higher education.

Key findings:
There exist a number of existing segmentations which address many of the areas of activity found in Universities and HEIs. These include segmentations which inform strategic planning of communications; segmentations which inform the design of collaborative engagement activities by museums, galleries, and libraries; and segmentations that are used to identify under-represented users and consumers.
Segmentation is, on its own, only a tool, used in different ways in different contexts. The broader strategic rationale shaping the application and design of segmentation methods is a crucial factor in determining the utility of segmentation tools.
Four issues emerged of particular importance:
1. Segmentation exercises are costly and technically complex. Undertaking segmentations therefore requires significant commitment of financial and professional resources by HEIs; the appropriate interpretation, analysis, and application of segmentation exercises also require high levels of professional capacity and expertise
2. Undertaking a segmentation exercise has implications for the internal organisational operations of HEIs, not only for how they engage with external publics and stakeholders
3. Segmentation tools are adopted to inform interventions of various sorts, and superficially to differentiate and sometime discriminate between how groups of people are addressed and engaged.
4. For HEIs, the ethical issues and reputational risks which have been identified in this Research Synthesis as endemic to the application of segmentation methods for public purposes are particularly relevant.

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