Pathways to culture change: new NCCPE report

White text on teal background reading 'Pathways to culture change'

If you are keen to see your institution enhance their support for public engagement, then you will be delighted to know there is a new funding call that could help you do just that.  RCUK’s ‘SEE PER’ call (closing on July 5th) builds on the hard work that began way back in 2008 with the launch of the Beacons for Public Engagement and the founding of the NCCPE. 

To accompany the launch of the new call, we’re delighted to be able to publish the latest in a series of reviews that seek to crystallise the learning from similar investments: in this case, the Catalyst Seed Fund projects (CSFs).  We want to ensure that other HEIs can benefit from the insights of these institutions by sharing the journeys they have travelled, the learning they have done, and the tools they have generated. 

The ten CSF projects were established in 2015 and have evidenced significant impact within their host universities. The Pathways to Culture Change report tells an encouraging story of what can be achieved relatively quickly with a limited budget.

Triggers of change

Together we’ve identified eight triggers of change. These provide a useful checklist for anyone planning a similar project.  It’s not surprising that this isn’t a simple linear process, but the checklist provides a useful framework to think about how to get change to happen. The triggers are:

  • Securing high level commitment and alignment
  • Reviewing and taking stock of existing engagement activity, and consolidating strengths
  • Developing a rationale, narrative and strategy for their project
  • Identifying and implementing quick wins (such as establishing seed funds, or awards)
  • Identifying success measures and monitoring progress
  • Putting in place steps to sustain momentum beyond project
  • Working responsively and building allies and networks
  • Recruiting a skilled team, with expertise in facilitating change

These lessons amplify what we already learnt with the Catalysts for Public Engagement with Research and the Beacons – and colleagues from the Beacons and Catalysts have acted as mentors and colleagues to the CSF teams. The latest report confirms, for instance, the value that the EDGE tool can offer projects who are starting out on a culture change project. This self-assessment tool provides a way of surfacing how well public engagement is currently supported in an institution or department. It also forms the basis of our new Engage Watermark process – which provides critical intelligence to those wanting to develop effective support for public engagement, and an opportunity to celebrate current practice.

People power  

Common to all of these projects is the power of people!  In our report on the Catalyst projects, the predecessors of the CSFs, the distinctive quality of the people involved shone through.  We concluded:

Delivering culture change projects requires very special characteristics within the team, including the PI. These include expertise in engagement, academic credibility, resilience, ability to engage across a range of people across the institution, confidence, humility, generosity and an understanding of culture change, including when to push and when to hold back.

All of the teams noted the importance of flexibility and responding to opportunity and serendipity. The Catalyst teams often thought of themselves as pollinators – working across institutional silos – mobilising ideas and contacts from different places within the institution. ‘We carry stories across the institution – sharing the amazing stuff people are doing’.

Timing is key

Our new report ends with some reflections from the project leads.  All urge pragmatism, and good timing: the University of Oxford’s story is typical:

Timing is key. For example - there was considerable and evident good-will for a University PER Strategic Plan at the early stages of development, hence the success in making this happen in a devolved University in which such institutional strategies are not that common. However, the time for opening up discussions regarding changes to job descriptions and promotions criteria was not right at Oxford. Continually pursuing this agenda in 2015-16 would have likely resulted in little, if any progress – we will pursue this pathway but when the timing is more appropriate.

The CSF Pathways report provides useful insights for others wanting to develop their own project.  However it is also a reminder that the success of the new SEE-PER call will depend heavily on the individuals that are recruited to plan and realise the successful projects. 

If you are considering submitting a proposal to the SEE PER call and would like to discuss this with a member of the NCCPE team, please email nccpe.enquiries@uwe.ac.uk . We would love to help.

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