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We help universities engage with the public

Future challenges

So where are we now?

In 2014 the NCCPE ran an event to bring together staff from the Catalyst and Beacon universities with representatives from 20 other Higher Education Institutions. The event provided a useful opportunity to take stock of how the sector is currently making sense of the ‘positives’ and remaining challenges in embedding public engagement. Below we've summarised the key points that arose from the discussions:

Positives

  • The REF has driven uptake and awareness of public engagement
  • Increasingly ‘joined up’ thinking across public, civic, cultural, business engagement activities (helped by impact agenda)
  • A range of other funding sources and incentives are helping – though requires entrepreneurial, pick-and-mix approach
  • When it’s there, senior manager support is very important
  • Investing in central infrastructure and support, e.g. festivals, to provide multiple opportunities
  • Role of enthusiasts/champions can’t be over-estimated
  • Bringing together networks of committed people to mobilise and motivate practice and culture change
  • Forming high level ‘coordination’/strategy groups to align activity
  • Increasing sharing of expertise and approaches between disciplines
  • Great resources already exist (e.g. NCCPE website) so don’t need to reinvent wheels
  • Value of partnership working with external agencies, e.g. museums, with complementary expertise

Challenges

  • Alignment and co-ordination: PE often happens in fragmented pockets.
  • Pull towards ‘broadcast styles’ of engagement still very prevalent
  • Lack of evaluation and monitoring – though this is improving
  • Getting PE properly reflected in promotions criteria
  • Muddled / divergent views of PE and its relationship to other forms of external engagement
  • Constantly shifting context and priorities – requires very agile and flexible approach
  • Securing sufficient central resource for coordination
  • Making a compelling business case to secure strategic, long term investment
  • Very different disciplinary cultures
  • Pressure on academics time leaves little room for PE
  • Moving beyond the ‘usual suspects’ to work with more diverse communities
  • Sustaining momentum and networks

The event confirmed anecdotal feedback from our many conversations with staff, students and community partners about the current ‘state’ of public engagement. These conversations identify a combination of factors which have led to a very different culture for PE than was present 6 years ago. Commonly cited factors include:

  • The concerted efforts of research funders to emphasise the strategic significance of PE, in particular through the Concordat for Engaging the Public with Research
  • The inclusion of PE as a ‘route’ to impact in both Pathways and REF guidance
  • The roll out of a range of RCUK and other funded initiatives, including the Catalysts for PE, the SUPI project and the great diversity of Wellcome funded grants and strategic incentives
  • Wider debates about the ‘public value’ of higher education, in the face of austerity and radical shifts in funding arrangements
  • The advocacy and catalytic role of the NCCPE in positioning PE as a critical strategic orientation for universities

What is your perspective on how the landscape for public engagement is changing? Please get in touch – we’d love to know what you think, and to know what you would add to the feedback we’ve collated above.