Engage Festival 2020

Engage Festival 2020: Engagement, innovation and change

We’re delighted to announce our plans for Engage 2020! With Covid-19 redefining our world, there has never been a more important time to stay connected, so we have decided to do Engage a bit differently this year…..

The Engage Festival is an online extravaganza which will take place from Monday 30th November – Friday 4th of December. Bringing together all of those keen to support the role of public engagement in reimagining our world, the programme is the ultimate in tailorable experiences, with delegates being able to develop their own programme that fits their interests and their availability.

The programme will include key-note plenaries, small and large workshops, and networking events. We are inviting the sector to develop and showcase high quality engagement practice both in terms of content and delivery. For those wanting to curate something really innovative, we are making small bursaries available, enabling our community to push the boundaries of online engagement, explore other innovative ways of bringing people together, or to develop tools and methods to approach engagement in our current context.

With a wide array of platforms, session formats, timings, and ticket pricing, we hope that this will be an event that is open to all.

Engage 2020 Themes

Engage 2020 will explore these questions:

  • What is the role of universities in our rapidly changing context? With Covid-19 changing the face of society, how can we reimagine the contribution universities can  make? What is the role of public engagement in how universities respond?
  • As we develop new approaches to engagement, how can we ensure that our work is inclusive, and appropriate to the interests and needs of those we work with? Are our emergent practices creating new barriers to engagement, and how can we respond to this?
  • As we start the process of social, economic and cultural recovery, how we can work in partnership with others to generate and share knowledge together? How can we find ways to support engagement practice, in the face of reduced funding, and increased pressure on communities?

In a context where the very fabric of society as we know it is changing; where predictions about the future are contested and uncertain; and where engagement and collaboration is needed to lay the foundations for all our futures, this conference will provide a place to explore, be challenged, and to dream. 

We welcome poets, artists, thinkers, practitioners, funders, policy makers, dreamers, pragmatists, communities, publics, patients, to come and join us at the festival – to share perspectives, and to reflect on the future of engagement in a Covid-19 world.

This year we will focus on the following key themes, seeking to open up a framework for action that could change the HE landscape forever. 

Being trusted and ethical

Responsible research and innovation encourages researchers to situate their work within a societal context. As we begin to make sense of the pandemic and its consequences, and higher education institutions reimagine their roles in society, we invite a conversation about what it means to be trusted in a rapidly evolving context; the skills and approaches needed to be ethical in knowledge creation and use; and how universities can build relationships that last.

Acting on inequality and inclusion

As universities continue to tackle the lack of diversity within the academy, which currently impoverishes the sector, and reinforces inequality, we invite delegates to reflect on what the Black Lives Matter campaign has taught us about change – in our institutions, and in our engagement. The Wellcome Research Cultures report brought into question the very culture of academia – where significant numbers of staff reflected on being bullied or harassed, where institutional cultures breed competition rather than collaboration and respect. How can we reimagine the who and how of engagement, and what does this mean for the make-up of our institutions, and for the focus of our external engagement?

Working responsively

The last few months have seen a huge demand for experts to inform how we respond to a global pandemic. It has thrown researchers into the spotlight, requiring them to share their knowledge and expertise, but also inviting them to make their best guess about the future. Universities have made unprecedented efforts to share their people, facilities and resources. As we navigate the current content, we explore the need to be responsive, to be able to adapt and change, and to listen to others to inform what we do. And we ask – how do the ways we work need to change to ‘hard-wire’ responsiveness into policy and practice?

Mobilising knowledge

Whilst the academy has been an important site of knowledge production and application, it is part of an ecosystem of knowledge creators, many of whom seek to understand, to challenge, and to inform change. We want to stimulate a discussion about whose knowledge counts, how to bring in expertise from inside and outside the academy to address societal challenges that have no easy solution. We explore what it means to generate impact, and the participatory methodologies that are leading to change.

Demonstrating accountability

A significant amount of public funding supports universities to do research. We want to open up discussions about what it means to be accountable – drawing from examples from outside higher education as we consider how to involve publics in meaningful ways, ensuring their views inform how universities do their work. We want to explore how far our current systems of accountability are fit for purpose, for instance in focusing our effectiveness in addressing inequality and racism.

Remaining relevant

The world is changing around us – and universities could get left behind if their funding models, and their approach to knowledge does not evolve too. Remaining relevant will see us listen to others, value and respect contributions of non HE organisations, and begin to realise the specific contribution universities can make to local, regional, national and international agendas.  How can a strategic approach to public engagement enable us to build authentic, purposeful connections to wider society and how will that affect our relevance in the future?

Highlights from Engage 2019