The story so far
The Beacons for Public Engagement project was established in 2008 with a simple but very challenging aim: to galvanise culture change in the pilot institutions and to influence the wider sector:
"...to create a culture within UK HE where public engagement is formalised and embedded as a valued and recognised activity for staff at all levels, and for students."
In 2013, the funders of the Beacons for Public Engagement project commissioned a short study to attempt to distil the key impacts achieved by the project. The report noted that all but one of the HEIs involved has chosen to invest its own funding in continuing the work of the Beacon – one key indicator of success. The most significant ongoing investment is being made at the University of Manchester and at UCL:
- The University of Manchester has embedded PE in one of its three strategic goals – social responsibility (SR). A team of five, including the former Beacon project manager, with core funding of £452,000, are building on the legacy of the Beacon to maintain culture change. Additionally, each faculty has an associate dean for SR, all with PE experience. Each faculty is supporting SR and PE projects.
- UCL is funding eight members of staff in the UCL Public Engagement Unit to continue the Beacon’s work.
The report also captured evidence of culture change at the Beacon HEIs with staff increasingly aware that a public engagement approach can benefit their careers. It noted key areas in which the impact of the investment in culture change had led to lasting impacts, clustered in the following areas:
- Beacon teams have supported successful research applications by bringing a public engagement perspective to research projects and to funding applications more broadly.
- This has diversified funding sources, drawing funding from the voluntary sector and the wider public sector, such as the Heritage Lottery Fund.
- New forms of engaging the public with research have been developed and practiced across the UK, with some evidence of influence on science communication in other countries.
- Beacon HEIs are better connected to policy-making and in projects that help to connect the public to policy-making.
- Beacon HEIs are also better connected to their local communities, with some initiatives helping to widen access to HE.
- Staff and students are benefiting from PE training, evidenced by an increase in demand for the training, while students also have more volunteering opportunities.