The National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement (NCCPE)'s action research programme was launched in July 2009, to explore the issues, tensions and dilemmas faced by those who have some part in embedding public engagement in higher education. Its aim was to support the transformation of the sector through a comprehensive network of learning groups. These would generate insight into key issues and build an evidence-based change programme from the issues that were raised.
Action research groups
The project drew on a systemic action research methodology to support understanding and change across a large system, such as the higher education sector. We established multiple small groups - each with participants drawn from a specific role in higher education. For example: university department heads, senior academics, senior managers, and those working in human resources. As key issues emerged across the groups, facilitators inter-connected them allowing for effective integration of emergent themes.
More than 40 higher education institutions had participants in at least one of the action research groups. The total number of active group members was approximately 70. In addition to these streams a cross-stream workshop with approximately 70 people was held which drew a wider community of institutions and stakeholders into the process.
We thought hard about the appropriateness of public engagement in this process, but wanted to avoid engaging “random” members of the public to deliberate on internal changes. Consequently we decided to work with a small selection of community-based organisations in Bristol that had some relationship with the University of the West of England, to build a picture of what they felt needed to change about the relationship between universities and local associations.