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Embedding Public Engagement in Research

RCUK is committed to supporting and rewarding researchers to engage with the public, and achieve a culture change so that public engagement is embedded alongside research and valued as an important activity.

Concordat for Engaging the Public with Research
Research Councils UK has signed a Concordat which aims to create a greater focus and help embed public engagement with research in universities and research institutes. It is a single statement of expectations and responsibilities of research funders in the UK regarding public engagement. Questions pertaining to institutional support for public engagement with research now form part of the non-financial component of the RCUK Assurance process.

Public Engagement as a Pathway to Impact
Researchers are encouraged to actively think about the pathways for realising the potential impact of their research within Research Council grant applications as part of their Pathways to impact. This can include public engagement activities which are project specific and could contribute to generating impact from the research proposed. Applicants can also request resources for these activities.

The National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement
The National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement is an initiative supported by the Research Councils UK, the UK funding councils and the Wellcome Trust to support a step-change in recognition for public engagement across the higher education sector. The National Co-ordinating Centre is hosted the University of Bristol, University of the West of England. It works strategically with key national partners who are also interested in understanding and listening to publics better and generating knowledge with them.

Statement of Expectation
RCUK has a Statement of Expectation for Societal and Economic Impact and four of these aims that are specific to public engagement as listed below. A copy of the full statement is available here.

  • demonstrate an awareness of the wider environment and context in which their research takes place
  • demonstrate an awareness of the social and ethical implications of their research, beyond usual research conduct considerations, and take account of public attitudes towards those issues
  • engage actively with the public at both the local and national levels about their research and its broader implications
  • publish results widely – considering the academics, user and public audiences for research outcomes

Those seeking Research Council funding should consider using Public Engagement as a Pathway to Impact, further information is available here.

Public Engagement Lens for the Researcher Development Framework 
The Vitae Researcher Development Framework (RDF) underpins a major new approach to developing world-class researchers. The framework has been developed by and for researchers working in higher education as an aid to planning, promoting and enhancing professional and career development. One of a series of lenses, the Public Engagement lens has been developed by RCUK, Vitae and the National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement (NCCPE) in consultation with the Beacons for Public Engagement and other individuals and organisations with an interest in public engagement. Using the RDF, the public engagement lens highlights how public engagement is part of the professional development of researchers and provides an overview of the key knowledge, behaviours and attributes typically developed by researchers that can be acquired through, or used in, public engagement activities.

RCUK Initiatives:

RCUK Catalyst Seed Fund
The RCUK Catalyst Seed Fund (CSF) provides flexible funding directly to Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) to help create a culture where excellent public engagement with research is better embedded within the HEI and appropriately included within its policies, procedures and practices.

In academic year 2015/2016 the programme provided funds of £65,000 (for 12 months) to each of 10 designated HEIs following satisfactory assessment of business plans. Funding has recently been confirmed for a further 12 month period from August 2016.

More details about the CSF projects can be found here.

  • University of Birmingham
  • University of Cambridge
  • University of Glasgow
  • Imperial College London
  • King’s College London
  • University of Leeds
  • University of Liverpool
  • University of Oxford
  • University of Southampton
  • University of Warwick

Eligibility for RCUK CSF was determined on the basis of the total value of Research Council standard grants, Beacons and Catalyst HEIs were ineligible for this funding having benefited from predecessor programme support. Please refer to the Guidance Notes for further information  .

Past RCUK Initiatives:

Public Engagement with Research Catalysts 
Following on from the success of the Beacons initiative, but recognising that further support was needed to embed public engagement within the sector, RCUK invested a further £2.4 million in Catalyst funding. The funding was awarded to eight HEIs between April 2012 and March 2015 and intended to act as a catalyst for culture change to help them embed public engagement with research within their policies, procedures and practices.

An independent interim review of the Catalyst programme has been undertaken by Ruth Townsley Research, available in summary and full version . The NCCPE have also considered the learning from the Catalyst Teams and this report can be found here

Beacons for Public Engagement
Beacons for Public Engagement were university-based collaborative centres to help support, recognise, reward and build capacity for public engagement work across the UK. Together with our partners, the UK funding councils and the Wellcome Trust, we are invested £9.2 million into this initiative in order to support a step-change in recognition for public engagement across the higher education sector. There were six Beacons around the UK, and one National Co-ordinating Centre.


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