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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 below.

University of Birmingham

More than a century after the University of Birmingham was established to unlock the global potential of a progressive city, we remain committed to ensuring our national and global influence while remaining at the heart of the city’s renaissance. We nurture and invest in intellectual talent and ideas, delivering world-class research and education, unlocking value and making important things happen. Public engagement with Research (PER) reminds us that the University’s research must have resonance with the wider world and our Professor of Public Engagement with Science, Alice Roberts, continues to champion our researchers to share the value of their research with those who are affected by and interested in shaping its outcomes.

Since the receipt of the RCUK Catalyst Seed Fund (CSF) twelve months ago, the University of Birmingham has made significant advances in public engagement culture change, particularly in the areas of PLANNING (our ‘Mission’) and PEOPLE (our ‘Leadership’). Our PER Committee (PERC) now reports directly to Research Committee and a new institutional PER strategy has been co-developed with input from researchers, senior management and professional services. This new strategy was developed in the context of the University’s Strategic Framework for 2015-20, which explicitly includes “Influence” as one of its four pillars (alongside Research, Education and Resources). Using the CSF we have recruited an enthusiastic and motivated cohort of mid-career researchers, our ‘Leading to Engage’ (L2E) champions to help drive change at a local level within each of our five Colleges. As new members of PERC, this cohort is starting to help bridge the divide between top-down and bottom-up by connecting the PER community in Colleges with College Directors of Research (DoRs) who sit on the University’s Research Committee. 

The second year of CSF funding will concentrate on supporting the delivery of the new PER Strategy, with a focus on Support, Reward & Recognition (PROMOTION), and Interdisciplinary PER (PARTNERSHIPS). There will be a particular emphasis on sustainability and our overarching aim is to take a “whole life approach” (Postgraduate to Professor), by working with our L2E cohort and DoRs to understand and respond to the needs of researchers at all stages of their careers. We will also consider how best to make use of the University’s unique and varied resources in a PER context. This includes the newly developed Lapworth Museum of Geology (re-opened June 2016), our new Library (opened September 2016), our University School (opened in 2015-16) and our numerous other cultural collections, partnerships and assets. Building on our strong regional focus and reflecting our civic foundation we will also do more to develop existing and new relationships with city partners (e.g. Birmingham Open Media, Impact Hub Birmingham) where mutual benefit can be identified and derived through working together on PER projects.

We also look forward to working more closely with RCUK and fellow CSF institutions, as well as key players such as the National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement (NCCPE) to share best practice and collectively champion for PER to be better rewarded, recognized and valued.  RCUK CSF funding has been invaluable in ‘making things happen’.


Twitter: @UOBengage, website:  

The University of Cambridge

The University of Cambridge will use its Catalyst Seed Fund (CSF) to develop a strategic approach to public engagement with research (PER) and embed a culture which values and supports excellence in engagement.

Our current methodology has focused on the dimensions of ’people’ and ’recognition’ first highlighted in an EDGE tool analysis of our public engagement provision in 2015. Strategic interventions introduced as part of our CSF include:

  • Introduction of a formal governance structure for PER in the form of an advisory group. This group is led by our Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research and comprises senior champions from each of our six academic schools.
  • Development of targeted public engagement strategies for each of our six schools, in consultation with senior staff and the researchers.
  • Recognition of excellence in PER through a new set of awards, presented by our Vice-Chancellor.
  • Support for innovative PER projects through a public engagement seed fund.
  • Targeted training of researchers in evaluating and evidencing their PER activity.
  • Sharing of PER opportunities and best practice through a University-wide network and monthly bulletin.

For the CSF continuation period, we have taken a strategic decision to move the management of the CSF from the Public Engagement team to the Research Strategy Office. This ensures that CSF objectives are aligned to other institutional strategic initiatives for impact and provides a direct route by which PER can be embedded into University research policies and practices. 

University of Glasgow        

The University of Glasgow is delighted to be part of RCUK’s Catalyst Seed Fund initiative for the second year. The original funding period saw a series of firsts for the University: the first time Engagement features as one of our three key missions in our Strategy document; the first Dean of Public Engagement appointed and the first Public Engagement Conference held.  This second round of funding will allow us to expand on the previous project as we work to embed a culture of engagement around research within the institution.

Among the new changes planned here at Glasgow will be an expansion of our Public Engagement team and the establishment of a flexible fund to support developmental opportunities for public engagement. We are also working on several initiatives designed to strengthen the voice and the leadership in the areas of Public Engagement with research. 

King’s College London

King’s’ three strategic priorities are producing world-class research, providing world-class training for students, and serving society.  Historically, King’s has always been an institution in the service of society, with engagement an inherent part of this. 

We continue to aspire to be the most porous Higher Educating Institution in the UK.  In line with this mission, King’s has invested in Science Gallery London.  Opening in 2018 on Guy’s Campus, Science Gallery will be a pioneering space where art and science collide, engaging over 300,000 students, researchers, members of the local community and young people with research at King’s.

During the first year of the CSF award 48 researchers gained extensive public engagement mentoring and hands-on experience as collaborators during Science Gallery’s pre-opening themed seasons.  A further 882 research staff and students attended presentations or workshops by the Science Gallery team.

We also established Engagement Services – an arm of Science Gallery London offering free consultations to researchers to support them build public engagement into their research grant applications.  Engagement Services also supports researchers to deliver and evaluate their proposed activities, facilitating a guided learning process.

During the second year of the CSF award we will continue to grow Engagement Services and maximise the opportunities for researchers to take part in Science Gallery seasons. 

Our key focus will be on-

  • Delivering grant support to encourage a culture where public engagement is understood as a fundamental part of the research process.
  • Providing hands-on learning opportunities via Science Gallery programming, training courses and grant schemes.
  • Working with researchers and other professional services to develop a shared understanding of engagement as part of our service to society at King’s, in line with the university’s new 2029 Vision and Strategy.
  • In collaboration with other engagement and impact support staff, we will support a growing community of ‘Engaged Researchers’ at King’s.

University of Leeds

During the first year of RCUK catalyst seed funding, the University of Leeds has made significant steps towards PE [public engagement] with research being a valued activity, which includes the continued institutional support of the PE team.

The PE team has worked collaboratively across the institution and within 12 months has: 

  • Co-developed a vision and strategic plan for PE with research
  • secured continued institutional support for three years
  • affected the inclusion of PE and outreach activity in academic promotion criteria

Our newly co-developed vision for public engagement with research (PE) at the University of Leeds is that PE is part of impactful research and something that we do; it is integrated into the research cycle and can occur at all stages of the research cycle. We embrace PE because it is our social responsibility, we want to build trust with the community in our research, we are accountable to the public as the funders of our research and we increase our research’ relevance making it more impactful. This has been developed also as a framework on which to build public engagement activities. Overall we plan to continue the work that we have started in 2015 and move from a setting up phase to an embedding and implementing phase.

University of Liverpool

“The University views public engagement with research as an underpinning ethos – a way in which we go about our business – rather than an add-on activity. Effective relationships with people and organisations from a broad range of sectors and backgrounds enable us to extend our reach and enhance our impact. They also provide our students and staff with truly rewarding experiences and a whole range of distinctive opportunities to achieve research and teaching excellence.”

Prof. Dinah Birch, PVC for Research & Impact and Principal Investigator for CSF at Liverpool.

The University is actively committed to public engagement, and has signed the NCCPE Manifesto for public engagement. At Liverpool, we recognise that an engaged approach is not only important in delivering public benefit from our work, but moreover, it is essential for the creation of excellent research.

Through our engagement with RCUK’s Catalyst Seed Fund (CSF) programme, the University has made considerable progress towards becoming fully engaged. We have firmly set the foundation for a culture of public engagement with research to become embedded in all of our outputs. We have made numerous changes to our practices and procedures already, as well as identifying the remaining challenges. It is understood that the transition to a completely engaged institution will take time beyond CSF, and that our project is a work in progress – work to which we are fully committed.

As we move forward, our CSF work will allow us to:

  • Develop research-centred partnerships creating public benefit.
  • Enhance and evaluate our environment for engaged practice in a holistic way.
  • Explore how we can engage more effectively with our important publics, including the next generations of researchers
  • Learn from our publics in our journey towards becoming fully engaged.

University of Oxford

At the University of Oxford we believe that public engagement enriches research and society and are committed to enabling our researchers to inspire, consult and collaborate with the public. Our vision is to embed high-quality and innovative public engagement as an integral part of research culture and practice at Oxford, enhancing our position as a world-leading research institution.

Oxford’s second RCUK Catalyst Seed Fund (CSF) award for 2016-17 will enable us to build on the significant progress made with our first award, progressing further towards our vision.

We will build capacity for research and support staff to develop and resource high-quality Public Engagement with Research activities, through training, support and provision of seed funding. Increasing understanding of public engagement as a route to research impact will be another important focus, alongside equipping staff with the skills, tools and knowledge to gather evidence of impact.

We will explore how we can best release the considerable potential for more high-quality public engagement collaborations to take place between Oxford’s researchers and its gardens, libraries and museums that attract over 3 million visitors per year.

Celebrating examples of best practice, and reward and recognition will continue to play an important part in our programme of activity, building on the success of the inaugural Vice-Chancellor’s Public Engagement with Research Awards that took place in July 2016.

Professor Ian Walmsley FRS (Pro VC, Research and Innovation) along with the University’s Academic Champion, Professor Sarah Whatmore, will continue to provide academic leadership for the CSF project with the support of Dr Lesley Paterson, Senior Facilitator and Coordinator, Public Engagement with Research and a network of research and support staff from across our collegiate University.

University of Southampton

The University of Southampton welcomes this ongoing opportunity to work with the NCCPE and to build shared understanding and capacity across our institution around public engagement with research (PER).  Year one of our Catalyst Seed Fund (CSF) culture-change project has supported: the development of our Spectrum of Public Engagement model, which provides researchers with accessible routes to engagement and enables us to assess needs and identify gaps in provision; and an expanded offer and take-up of PER-related training.  A key outcome has been the formal creation of a Public Engagement with Research unit (PERu), with ongoing additional institutional support.

Strategic direction is provided by PI Prof Jane Falkingham and the Engaged University Steering Group, chaired by the Vice-President (Research & Enterprise); the PERu continues to facilitate the University’s Public Engagement Network, and is in the process of formalising an ‘Associate’ relationship with a number of key activists/champions drawn from the Network.  We will continue to provide support for innovative and culture-changing PER projects via our annual Development Funding Call.

The year two CSF continuation funding will provide targeted support to:  1) increase the quality and spread of PER evaluation practice, focussing particularly on activities within the Spectrum and working with the project-leads holding PER Development Funds ; 2) build on pilot activity in 2016 to further explore the use of digital platforms for public engagement with research, and in particular the potential this affords to access new audiences; and 3) connect and work more closely with key partners, such as PublicPolicy@Southampton (including sharing some administrative resource).

University of Warwick

The University of Warwick continues with its objective of achieving a step-change in Public Engagement with Research (PEwR) and embedding it within the institution as part of the academic life of our excellent researchers. The RCUK Catalyst Seed Funding (CSF) for year two is enabling the University to focus on building solid foundations of support for activity plus developing and communicating strategy to our diverse community. We are using lessons learned during year one to move forward with plans for new staff, improved resources and a consolidation and strengthening of our PE networks across the institution, that will ensure that PEwR is successful and sustainable.

The CSF II will continue to address four key aims: 

  • Develop and communicate our strategic institutional approach to public engagement
  • Enhancement of capacity in PEwR and co-production in research
  • Embedding PEwR in the institutional culture by inculcating it in the thinking and practice of every researcher
  • Progress towards a financially sustainable model for PEwR 

Leadership: As both PVC for Research and PI for Warwick’s CSF, Professor Pam Thomas continues to lead on PewR at Warwick. The Public Engagement Steering Group has been refreshed and will continue to drive strategic direction with Simon Swain PVC for External Engagement as Chair. Both appointments demonstrate a clear line of communication to senior staff and support for engagement in a wider context.

Staff resource: A significant change this year has been the employment of a Public Engagement Manager for the University and subsequently the plan to establish a Public Engagement Unit with three additional posts. We aim to communicate better the opportunities for PE, our successful case studies and the help and advice that is available to those who want to engage.

Activity: Our growing Public Engagement Network will continue to provide the vital supportive environment that allows peer to peer communication and discussion to help inform ‘what is public engagement at Warwick’ and how can it be encouraged and enabled more effectively. In year one we directly supported eleven small PE projects with catalyst funding which have been successful and have led to further activity and success.

Moving Forward: We are very pleased with our continued funding that enables us to make even more significant progress at all levels of the institution. A framework is beginning to take form and will lead to improved communication with our wide range of audiences both internally and externally and to developing a sustainable future for PEwR at Warwick.


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