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Embedding recognition for public engagement into promotions criteria at UEA

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Overview

Who: The CUE East director, Julie Worrall, working closely with UEA’s Enterprise & Engagement Executive, Human Resources Department and academic colleagues

What: Changing the promotions criteria to include recognition for public engagement

Why: To recognise and reward UEA staff for their commitments to public engagement

Where: UEA

When: Between March 2008 and July 2010

Description

In 2008 UEA became a 'Beacon for Public Engagement' and set up Community University Engagement East, a four year pilot aimed at building a culture whereby public and community engagement is a recognised and rewarded activity at the University.  

Early on in the project CUE East conducted a baseline survey into the perceptions of public engagement of academic staff. The survey revealed compelling evidence about the impact of the then lack of formal recognition of public engagement:  

“It’s not going to be anything we can use on our CV for future job applications, so I suppose the brutal truth of it is it’s got to be done as an act of social citizenship rather than anything else.” Senior Researcher, UEA (CUE East Baseline Survey December 2008)

‘There was some concern expressed for young academics. It was felt that for those with no academic track record behind them, the lack of career recognition for public engagement activities could act as a major disincentive to getting involved’ p.27, ‘A qualitative baseline report on the perceptions of public engagement in University of East Anglia academic staff’, Lisa McDaid, December 2008

The survey made the following recommendations, which led directly to a project to embed engagement in UEA’s promotions criteria:

  • Improved co-ordination of current public engagement activities at UEA, through better recording, recognition and support, should be seen as equally important to encouraging new public engagement activities.
  • As career progression was identified as a key barrier to public engagement, public engagement activities should contribute to the career progression of academic staff at UEA, through inclusion in job descriptions, appraisal and promotions criteria.

Purpose and aims

The findings of the Baseline Research provided further evidence for the Business Plan objectives where CUE East had planned to do the following:

"We will use UEA’s annual appraisal and development scheme to integrate the aims and values of public engagement as an activity that is totally in-step with UEA’s corporate strategy. The scheme will enable us to recognise achievement and motivate individuals. Its objectives include the following:

  • provide individual members of staff with an opportunity to reflect on their personal performance, to identify strengths and weaknesses and to improve performance to enable them to reach their potential
  • help individual members of staff to identify their training and development needs to further develop their careers within the University"

In tandem, UEA’s draft Corporate Plan 2007/08 – 2011/12 recognised the need to recognise and support academic’s with their public engagement:

"UEA’s draft corporate plan recognises the role of ‘public intellectuals’ and proposes a new approach to workload distribution and promotion which will reward contributions to public engagement."

Process

CUE East was invited early on by the Head of UEA’s Human Resources to draft new Engagement promotions criteria and began work on providing a clear and convincing rationale for such a significant change. CUE East reported this early development to the (then named) Knowledge Transfer Executive (now the Enterprise & Engagement Executive) in April 2008, which subsequently formed a Promotions Working Group chaired by the Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research, Enterprise & Engagement. 

This group was tasked with developing new criteria for both Engagement and for Enterprise, reflecting a ‘joined up’ approach between the two different strands. The CUE East team produced a simple model to aid discussion on assessing the practitioner’s impact and performance, and a discussion paper which attempted to cover:

  • Why should engagement be included?
  • What is engagement?
  • How might you measure inputs, outputs and impacts?
  • What complications / issues are we likely to confront in implementing the assessment?
  • What might an assessment framework actually look like?

After a number of Working Group meetings, the Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research, Enterprise & Engagement drew all contributions together in a document for consideration by UEA’s Human Resources Department in June 2008. 

The draft criteria was then incorporated within UEA’s revised ‘Green Book’ (Rules and Procedures relating to the Terms and Conditions of Appointment, Determination of Salary, Advancement and Promotion of Members of Academic Staff) which was also subject to a regional consultative ballot by the University and College Union and rejected, primarily on the grounds of other changes incorporated in the revised version which related to other aspects of the terms and conditions.   It was agreed, however, that a one year pilot of the ‘Green Book’ would go ahead, for 2009/10. 

The draft criteria on Enterprise & Engagement that were piloted in the 2009 version and were framed as follows:

  • Assessment of cases for promotion in relation to Enterprise and Engagement and related administration should be based upon evidence of contributions, as presented in the Enterprise and Engagement section of the Academic Promotions Template.

  • Enterprise and Engagement incorporates ‘Knowledge transfer’, and comprises academic enterprise and business, community and public engagement, and is normally the use of or development of intellectual capital through an interaction between the University and non-academic sectors. 

  • Teaching often includes a component of enterprise and engagement, e.g. the incorporation into the curriculum and learning experiences of social, cultural and economic context.

  • 'In documenting activities under the enterprise and engagement categories, candidates for promotion should stress the quality of both the project or activity and the additional benefits to the University engendered by the relationship with a partner.' UEA Green Book, 2009.

The specific draft criteria can be viewed here (PDF 492kb).

Assessment standards were also generated based upon these criteria (PDF 271kb). 

During the pilot CUE East obtained informal feedback on issues encountered while implementing the new Engagement promotions criteria. A key concern was that the criteria were deemed to be ‘diffuse.’ CUE East had provided lots of examples of activities and outputs in the draft criteria in response to early concerns about what activities should be ‘counted’ as Engagement. It appeared, however, that this served to confuse rather than clarify matters.

In May 2010 CUE East met with the Human Resources Department and agreed to simplify the criteria accordingly without making fundamental changes that would require further consultation. The changes that were proposed and approved by UEA’s Executive Team resulted in a simplified framework which can be viewed here (PDF 375kb).

The final version of the criteria can be viewed here (PDF 90kb).

Successes

The fact that the theme of ‘Enterprise & Engagement’ had been incorporated into the new Corporate Plan 2008-2012 provided a positive context for CUE East to work in this area.

  • The early invitation from the Human Resources Department to devise the new criteria was an unexpected opportunity which was grasped with enthusiasm.
  • Working with the members of the Enterprise & Engagement Executive on the new criteria has enabled CUE East to take a ‘joined up’ approach to the task and clarify the synergies between the two different strands.  This is currently being followed through in the subsequent work on the University’s appraisal system (see below under ‘Next steps’).
  • CUE East provides regular briefings to UEA staff at all the Staff Introductory Conferences and at the MA in Higher Education Practice (MA-HEP) Induction Days. The opportunity to include a reference to the new promotions criteria in these presentations has enabled CUE East to demonstrate the University’s commitment to Engagement as a valued part of academic practice.
  • Three CUE East Award Winners have contributed to the MA-HEP, two of whom have been promoted recently to Senior Lecturer on the basis of their engagement activity, and all of whom are excellent role models as engagement practitioners. This includes the promotion of Sarah Churchwell to Professor for the Public Understanding of the Humanities, who is setting up a Centre for Public Engagement in the Humanities.

Challenges

"It's easy to write a policy document, what's not so easy is to implement it." Julie Worrall

The process has shown that there is a significant challenge in clarifying the activities involved in public engagement, and to develop a shared understanding of both  the value of these activities, and of the a process to assess them fairly.  Some simplification of the criteria helped, but it will clearly take time for the promotions panels to begin to feel confident with implementing the guidance.

Ongoing dialogue is critical, and the CUE east team have invested significant time in working with HR, and with the boards to discuss the implementation and to tease out the issues.

Next steps

CUE East is working with the University’s Research, Enterprise & Engagement Office on developing an appraisal self-assessment form and guidance for managers  which is being piloted in the Faculty of Science in 2010/11.