Who: Beacon for Wales
What: Providing funding to develop effective engagement projects
Why: To raise the profile of public engagement as a valid activity for university academics
The Beacon for Wales has been focusing on raising the profile of engagement as a valid activity for university academics, and has managed to award £208k to 16 projects across four different Welsh universities in two funding rounds. The Beacon invited everyone who had contacted them about the second round of funding to complete a short e-survey about what they had learnt about public engagement as a result of their funding application. This survey had 50 respondents, 36 of which were university staff involved in projects, while five were community partners.
One of the key aims of the funding was to help universities make new partnerships with community organisations: everybody who submitted a project stated that they had achieved this. Even more importantly perhaps, 70% of those survey respondents who did not put a bid in still stated that they had made new partnerships, which really highlights the value of this approach.
The second key aim of the funding stream was to help academics learn about public engagement; the Beacon wanted to know whether the act of applying had had any impact on this. They received a positive response with 60% of respondents stating that they had learnt something new. Here are some comments from the survey:
"In addition to the new contacts made... the very act of assembling and thinking through our project has made me think of new approaches to research and projects."
"If academics want to do something innovative and useful, it is very important to partner with external bodies, especially if the academics are not experienced with the group they want to work with."
"We have a community engagement team - not tripped over them before."
"That there is a commitment in Wales to public engagement and a range of organisations are involved in it."
"The call involved me and my researcher actively finding out key issues for the community by meeting with them and tossing around ideas. Usually we work the other way round by simply responding to funding calls. Doing it the Beacon way is much better."
The Beacon team has also been using this funding process to improve the networks between Higher Education and their communities by linking academics and non-academics together, and also to make progress on developing the Arts and Social Sciences Network.