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University of Exeter

Principal investigator: Professor Nicholas Talbot
Title: The Exeter Catalyst
Project contact: Mrs Grace Williams (

The ‘Exeter Catalyst' will create the enabling conditions, as well as supportive structures and processes, to ensure that public engagement with research becomes an embedded part of the culture of research practice at the University of Exeter. The main objective is to allow a culture to develop within the University to support the creation of new relationships between university researchers and the public, and among diverse academic colleagues.

The ‘Exeter Catalyst’ will seek to build on a series of excellent public engagement initiatives that are already underway at the University. It will seek to develop further the learning it has gained through collaborating with the National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement and the six UK University Beacons for Public Engagement. On the basis of the learning gained from these partner organisations and the theoretical reflections on its own engagement work, the University has developed a distinctive model of delivery for the work of the ‘Exeter Catalyst ‘which is grounded in a robust methodology informed by complexity theory.

In the 1st year, the Catalyst will support a series of "exchange visits" with Beacon sites and other HEIs undertaking engagement work, to enable members of its public engagement networks to experience at first hand the kinds of structures and processes that have supported successful engagement work at these institutions. In parallel, the Catalyst will conduct an engagement mapping exercise, followed by a series of engagement "needs assessments" in each of the University's Colleges. Finally the Catalyst will organise a series of activities aimed at bringing together academics who are experienced in engagement work with academics wishing to undertake engagement work anew.

During the 2nd and 3rd years, the Catalyst will utilise a Seed Corn fund to invest in projects which have been proposed on the basis of the partnerships developed during the first phase of work. The funding for these projects will be relatively small, to encourage risk-taking and innovation. In the final year, the Catalyst will begin to collate evaluative learning from both the project work, and from the overall work of the ‘Exeter Catalyst’. Project teams will be supported in exploring the potential for future collaborative work.

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