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Open University

Principal investigator: Professor Tim Blackman
Title: An open research university: embedding public engagement within the culture of research at the Open University
Project contact: Dr Richard Holliman (

The Open University Catalyst will be informed by the University’s long-term commitment to social justice and inclusion. It will embed an 'ecology of openness' to inform all aspects of how researchers engage publics, user communities and other stakeholders with research, and at different points in the research process. The aim is to change the culture of research and to improve the overall quality and impact of the University’s research portfolio, increasing the Open University's relevance to, and impact on, society.

A technique known as the 'Edge Tool' provides the co-ordinating framework for the project. Each of the nine project objectives relates to a category from this tool and each one has a work package associated with it. The work packages will be evaluated according to the criteria laid out in the tool. By March 2015 the aim is to transform The Open University's research culture from a 'developing' phase to a 'gripping' or 'embedding' phase in how researchers are encouraged, supported and rewarded for engaging publics, user communities and other stakeholders with research.

The Open University will complement the change management strategy with the participatory design of information systems, methods and tools for engaging publics with research (much of which will be online, building on the University’s expertise and experience in virtual engagement). In parallel with the development of this infrastructure they will issue annual calls for public engagement with research projects and activities. These will provide researchers with structured and supported opportunities to engage specific publics, user communities and stakeholders with various aspects of the research process, prioritising work that has promise to be upscaled and mainstreamed sustainably.

The University will also extend its current provision to enhance career development opportunities for researchers and research students, and introduce a reward scheme for excellent public engagement with research. In developing the Catalyst beyond the three-year project, it will draw on the lessons from working at scale as the UK's largest university, in particular through its experience of developing, implementing and evaluating digital media, tools and technologies, and in engaging publics, user communities and stakeholders with research routinely. Finally, it will develop a framework to share this knowledge, expertise and practical lessons learned with RCUK, the NCCPE and other HEIs, contributing to a critically informed understanding of how change can be worked with at different strategic levels in an HE institution.

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