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UCL Beacon Bursaries

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Who: Beacon Bursaries scheme is one of the funding schemes facilitated by the UCL Public Engagement Unit

What: The scheme provides small grants of up to £1,500 to support projects or activities that will help staff and/or students to connect their research or teaching with groups outside UCL

Why: The aim of the Beacon Bursary scheme is, specifically, to increase activity, skills and understanding of public engagement across the university

Where: 35 projects have been supported following five competitive rounds of funding which received 194 applications

When: Opened in December 2008.

  Walk-Talk-and-Draw.  One of the projects supported by a Beacon Bursary.

An image from Drawing DiverCITIES: Walk-Talk-and-Draw - one of the projects funded by a Beacon Bursary


A variety of initiatives have been developed and supported under the scheme. These activities range in approach (i.e. from telling public groups about the university’s work to creating knowledge in collaboration with communities and interest groups outside the university), subject matter (e.g. urban planning, chemistry, medicine and psychology), audience (e.g. young people, patient groups and local residents) and methods used (e.g. training, panels, events, focus groups, festivals).

As of September 2010, over half of the Beacon Bursary projects have been completed. The outputs of these activities are summarised below:

  • 18 completed projects
  • 9,489 members of the public have attended Beacon Bursary project activities
  • 76 groups or organisations were linked to the Beacon Bursary projects
  • £27,009 funding spent, with £452,097 of additional funding linked to the projects

Projects supported and completed include:

  • Disposal? An interactive exhibition designed to consult with UCL staff and students and the general public in order to inform UCL Museums and Collections acquisition and disposal policies. The exhibition was attended by 942 visitors and the media coverage surpassed all expectations, with articles in the Guardian and on the New Scientist website.
  • K-Day. A ‘village fete’ event focused upon health impacts of ketamine. The event was organised to involve 200 ketamine users, professionals and policy makers in an innovative and relevant way, allowing the exchange of information and knowledge between these groups. The findings from the event fed into a briefing document on harm reduction advice for ketamine users.
  • Public Engagement in Oral Healthcare. Focus groups were organised with dentists, hygienists and patients to bring together these disparate groups to discuss and direct oral healthcare research. The collaboration specifically shaped a £1.2 million funding application to the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR).

Results and outcomes

Despite the variety of Beacon Bursaries undertaken, monitoring and evaluation (through project learning and evaluation reports completed post-project by the project leads) indicates that the initiatives have resulted in similar outcomes. The key successes and pitfalls are as follows.

What works well

  • The Beacon Bursaries encourage risk, creativity and innovation on a number of levels; in terms of methods used to engage (e.g. drama, art, debate), subject matter considered (e.g. ketamine use, museum disposal policies), the audiences involved (e.g. youth groups, patients) and individuals involved (i.e. those with limited engagement experience)
  • The projects’ main impact is upon those who are directly involved, leading the project. Findings from the evaluation highlight that all those leading projects develop or gain certain skills, or learn something new as a result of being involved in the scheme. The learning outcomes included developing subject specific knowledge, learning about public engagement (e.g. methods to engage) and/or the development of certain skills (e.g. project management, communication)
  • A classification system has been developed, to assess and quantify the contribution of the funded projects to the programme. This system has been developed to enable an overview of the projects funded under the umbrella of the programme. The classification system rests upon the key aims of the Beacon programme, and the UCL Beacon evaluation framework guides the assessment of the projects. The figure below illustrates the main “Beacon” theme(s) of the projects funded, and quantifies on a scale of 0-5 how much the project relate to each of the strategic Beacon aims. With “0” being no relation to the Beacon aim and the higher the number the more the project relates to the Beacon aim.

What doesn't work well

  • One of the persistent themes emerging from the project learning and evaluation reports is how the public engagement activities have ‘hidden costs’ to a department and the individuals involved – time, effort and resources are needed to plan and set up the Beacon Bursary project. Many noted the need to take time at the start of the project to think through these hidden costs
  • Challenging environments. Some project leads noted how it was difficult to find the appropriate spaces to cater for the audience and the requirements of the project. Issues were raised on access, the use of certain technologies and the limitations on filming
  • Building partnerships and relationships was a key aspect of the majority of projects funded. Some projects reported issues with communication, specifically the challenge of tactfully negotiating different agendas and different ways of working between partners
  • Each of the completed Beacon Bursary projects was successful in effectively engaging their partners and audiences; however this came with a challenge to manage the expectations of those contributing. Many noted interest from those participating, about how the project lead or team would follow up the activities and what would be organised next. 

Lessons learnt

  • The Beacon Bursary funding scheme is strong on the necessary processes and procedures for both the developing of proposals and the commissioning of projects. Opportunities for advice and support are provided for prospective applicants, alongside comprehensive guidelines which are made publicly available on the UCL public engagement web pages
  • It is important for the UCL Public Engagement Unit to build in time and resources to provide learning, networking and developmental opportunities for project leads alongside the grant funding. The one to one support, training, networking, mentoring and brokerage was important in terms of helping the project leads to deliver their projects effectively and crucially, get the support needed to take it onto the next level (in terms of engagement) beyond the award
  • There is a need to share the learning from these experiences; case studies have been made available on the UCL public engagement website and networks facilitated between similar projects


UCL Public Engagement Beacon Bursary Scheme

Contacts at UCL

Steve Cross, Head of Public Engagement at UCL / 020 7679 3530

Responsible for: Strategy, culture change, embedding engagement, triggering activity. 

Hilary Jackson, Public Engagement Coordinator at UCL

hilary.jackson@ / 0207 679 2489

Responsible for: Funding, supporting networks and individual projects

Gemma Moore, Public engagement evaluation officer at UCL / 0207 679 4112

Responsible for: Evaluation plans and methods, public engagement case studies.