In 2008, RCUK partnered with the UK Funding Councils and Wellcome Trust on the Beacons for Public Engagement initiative (ending in December 2011). Six Beacons were established around the UK to pilot new methods to embed public engagement within their organisations, alongside the National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement. As the Beacons initiative comes to an end, RCUK recognise that following the Beacons initiative further support to embed public engagement in the higher education sector is required. This new funding is intended to act as a catalyst for culture change within HEIs to help them embed public engagement with research within their policies, procedures and practices.
The aims of the Catalysts are to:
create a culture within the grant holding HEIs where excellent public engagement with research is formalised and embedded through:
- strategic commitment to public engagement
- integration of public engagement into core research activities of HEIs, including measuring quality and impact of public engagement with research activities
- reward and recognition of researchers and staff involved in public engagement
- encouraging and supporting researchers and staff at all levels to become involved (e.g. by building capacity for public engagement amongst researchers)
- create networks within institutions to share good practice, celebrate their work and ensure that those involved in public engagement feel supported
- contribute to a wider network supportive of public engagement including the NCCPE, other recipient HEIs and the wider HE community
build on experience to develop best practice that recognises the two-way nature of public engagement with research
The following HEIs have been awarded funding:
University of Aberdeen
Principal investigator: Professor Albert Alexander Rodger
Title: A progressive model for institutional culture change
The University of Aberdeen takes the view that to properly integrate with society, the institution as a whole must regard the public as one of its key stakeholders. At an operational level, this means empowering staff and students to become involved, build capacity and drive an agenda of public engagement forward. This includes investment in operations that traditionally may not have been considered central to the core business of the organisation. Over the years, the University has pro-actively encouraged progress in the public engagement arena, whilst also responding to a number of drivers that are now emerging as key guiding principles from external stakeholders such as Government and major funders.
The University has been extremely proactive in recent years, particularly in the field of public engagement with science, where a research and researcher-led strategy has demonstrated the mutual benefits that can be realised for both the public and researchers. Several outputs from the strategy have resulted including one of the UK's biggest researcher led Cafe Scientifique programmes and the securing of the British Science Festival in Aberdeen - the first time it has been held in Scotland since 2001 and in Aberdeen since 1963. The University has also forged working relationships with the national Beacon network, formed in 2008 with support from the major funders, to create a step change in attitudes of higher education institutes towards public engagement.
The Catalyst funding gives the University a unique opportunity to demonstrate how a wider public engagement with research strategy can reap huge benefits moving forward. By taking advantage of cross-disciplinary approaches together with the benefits of collaborations, the University will achieve a sustainable model for public engagement with research that will add significant value to the wider engagement and research agendas in Scotland and beyond.
University of Bath
Principal investigator: Professor Jane Millar
Title: Embedding public engagement across the research lifecycle at the University of Bath
This project is underpinned by a concept of embedding public engagement across the whole 360 research lifecycle. The aim is to embed a public engagement culture at all phases of the research lifecycle, from conception to impact. Led by the Pro-Vice-Chancellor Research, the Engaged360 project team will establish a new Public Engagement Unit headed by a Director of Public Engagement and supported by a Public Engagement Officer.
A network of Institutional and Department Champions will act as catalysts for cultural change at the University and involvement of senior academics and managers will ensure that public engagement is recognised in strategic and staff development documents. Culture change within the University will focus on two key mechanisms: embedding activities, led by the Director of Public Engagement and a range of targeted initiatives spearheaded by institutional champions, aimed at expanding current areas of good practice throughout Bath and beyond. The culture change catalysed by the project will be sustained into the future through the University's strategic commitment to enhancing communication and research impact.
University of Exeter
Principal investigator: Professor Nicholas Talbot
Title: The Exeter Catalyst
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.
Institute of Education, University of London
Principal investigator: Professor Michael Reiss
Title: Public engagement with the research process and research findings at the Institute of Education
This project aims to develop the capacity of the London-based Institute of Education (IOE) to actively involve the public in its research work. The IOE, which was founded as a teacher training institution in 1902 is now a world-class research and teaching institution for education and related social sciences. The Institute's immediate public include pupils, parents, teachers, and managers of schools and other services for children and families. Other publics include community groups whose interests overlap with education and related areas of social science and professional practice.
IOE research groups have collaborated with pupils and teachers inside and outside school, and with charities for young people to ensure research projects address the issues most critical to them. Teachers, managers and others have participated in debates with Institute researchers on IOE research findings and have been enabled to develop skills for conducting their own research. At a more strategic level, the Institute includes people with public perspectives as part of its formal committee structures that decide how the Institute should do its research, for example on research ethics committees.
The project is based upon the understanding that public engagement with research can take many forms and that meaningful and effective engagement requires clarity from all those involved about this variation. It is important for researchers and those engaging with them to be clear about the purposes behind engagement, as this can inform choices about whom it might be appropriate to engage and the models of dialogue that might suit. This project aims to build on the Institute's existing public engagement work. Through a programme of leadership, policy development, training and support, and shared learning and evaluation, the project will help increase clarity and understanding about public engagement in research amongst staff and students throughout the Institute, increase levels of support and resources for engagement activities and engender a culture of collective, as well as individual responsibility for the Institute's dialogue with its publics about research.
The University of Nottingham
Principal investigator: Professor Sarah O’Hara
Title: Integrating the human value of research through public engagement – impacts for the civil society
The University of Nottingham will create a Community of Practice (CoP) that will build on existing public engagement activities to increase the momentum of culture change through a programme of activities responding to the conclusions and recommendations of recent reviews of public and community engagement. The aim is to meet objectives of stimulating additional activity and embedding culture change in relation to public engagement with research.
An on-line community will support the exchange of research ideas and contacts and care will be taken to communicate with people from different 'public' groups in different and audience appropriate ways. The University is fully committed to supporting the Concordat for Engaging the Public with Research, which has at its heart the idea that engaging with the public should be part of the role of researchers in any discipline - to improve the quality of research and its impact, widen research horizons, enhance communication and influence skills, build new partnerships and, ultimately, to support social change and the 'public good'. Excellent practice abounds across research priority areas which the university has identified and indeed across all disciplines but this is yet to be fully coordinated and evaluated.
To ensure long-term impact and real sustainability the University’s approach will create pathways into harder to reach communities, a demographic that does not traditionally engage with higher education, rather than the standard/usual user demographic (middle class/educated). This includes an intention to go out into public spaces - sports stadia/pubs/retail outlets/arts venues - and a mechanism for holding researchers to account. By these means - and an increased profile internally for public engagement with research, as well as workload modelling to allow for a focus on public engagement – the University will access an academic/research community who either do not think that public engagement is their responsibility or believe that only other academics would be interested in their field of research. This creates long-term potential for impact and sustainability internally.
The aim is to invest in the development of effectiveness measures for public engagement activities by providing additional support to the work of the Community Partnerships unit to expand their research in the use of a social impact tool for measurement/metrics, whilst using the COP as a group for developing metrics to better benchmark and evaluate staff engagement and cultural capital.
Principal investigator: Professor Tim Blackman
Title: An open research university: embedding public engagement within the culture of research at the Open University
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.
Queen Mary, University of London
Principal investigator: Professor Peter McOwan
Title: Centre for Public Engagement
Queen Mary University of London (QM) has a century-old history of Public Engagement. Originally founded as the 'People's Palace' in 1887, it works with East End schools, local, regional and national government, cultural organisations, businesses, social entrepreneurs and charities. The ambition is to ensure that its research is meaningful and important to many publics, so that it can be clearly demonstrated how research at QM is changing people's lives. The College does this by informing, consulting and collaborating with a wide range of publics and intends to do more to highlight the research taking place in every part of the College. From the work undertaken by the six Beacons and through its own activities, the College has learnt that it is crucial to see Public Engagement as a sustained set of networks and connections with publics and communities, rather than as a series of special, one-off events. Using, the National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement's 'EDGE' tool, the College has identified that it is now poised to move onto the 'Embedding Phase'.
It is easy, in focusing on the areas in which have been successful to think that enough has been done to create a culture change across the whole institution, however this is only the start of the transformation. To ensure that public engagement becomes something that is undertaken as part of everyday academic activity the College will review all aspects of its training, probation, and promotions policies as well as other strategies and initiatives.
As a tangible demonstration of their institutional commitment to make this systematic, high-level shift, the College has created a new Centre for Public Engagement and has recently appointed a new Vice-Principal for External Partnerships and Public Engagement. Professor Peter McOwan will be responsible for delivering the College's emerging public engagement strategy and will be a full member of its Senior Executive reporting directly to the Principal. With this significant development, the aim is to bring together the existing multiple, high quality, public engagement activities to share best practice with new and emerging activities. This in turn, will allow QM to catalyse public engagement not only in London, but also nationally and internationally.
University of Sheffield
Principal investigator: Professor Richard Jones
Title: Remaking the civic university: creating new cultural standards for public engagement
The ambition is to effect cultural change in the University of Sheffield, so there is a widespread expectation that staff at all levels can contribute to public engagement, that staff who do so can expect their efforts to be recognised and celebrated, and most importantly, that this engagement will have real influence on the strategic direction of the University. They will do this by a combination of leadership at the highest levels of the institution, with the support of the Vice-Chancellor and the University Executive Board a systematic review of institutional practises and processes, and practical support for the existing, widespread network of public engagement practioners from a small, dedicated team. If successful, the University will see an expanded network of public engagement practitioners who are more effective and feel more supported by the University. This public engagement will have had an effect on individual researchers, making them reassess their own research aims and priorities, but it should also start to influence the wider research strategies of the University. The aspiration of the University is to carry out research that contributes positively to widely shared societal goals; they cannot meet this aspiration without being successful in deeply embedding public engagement in the way the University operates.