Access external funding

How to go about accessing external funding for public engagement.

Funding opportunities for public engagement 

Public engagement remains a key priority for many funders including those inside and outside academia, which means that there are a number of funding avenues available. For those supporting engagement within their institutions, it is critical to understand the funding landscape. 

There are currently three main sources of funding to do engagement:

1. Public engagement specific funding 

Our funding pages list funding sources that we are aware of that you may wish to apply for, or signpost to your staff and students. Many of these are from higher education funders, however there are a significant number of other places where you can look to gain support for your work.

2. Pathways to Impact funding 

The research councils encourage researchers to cost public engagement into their grants by including it in their Pathways to Impact statements. Increasingly public engagement teams are working with their research offices to provide expert help to researchers in writing successful bids that incorporate public engagement.  Indeed, this ‘service’ is key to them securing ongoing investment from their universities.  

This was the main focus of the Kings College London Catalyst Seed Fund project. In order to develop a ‘scalable model’ the team developed a costed ’menu of services’ that researchers could choose from, and identified a cohort of specialists in different types of engagement who could be costed into projects. Key lessons learnt include:

  • Raising the awareness of the grant consultation service you are offering with related departments or services is key to drive take up of the service 

  • In the early days of offering the service, it is likely researchers will get in contact when they are very close to the grant deadline. This results in a very short consultation period which does not allow for adequate support or significant changes to the Pathway to Impact statement.  

  • With an increased consultation period you can expect to see an increase in quality of the consultation process and an increase in the quality of Pathways to Impact statements  

  • A ‘Menu of Services’ is extremely valuable, at least for back of house calculations  

Quality can be affected by the researchers’ level of experience with engagement and understanding of impact; a lack of genuine commitment from researchers to achieve ‘impact’; lack of confidence in the peer review process when it comes to impact statements – will this really get funded?; and too strong a focus on ‘what’ the researcher wants to do, rather than ‘why’ they want to do it.

3. Institutional funding

Institutions have a range of sources of funding that could be used to support engagement. For example:

  • HEIF: The Higher Education Innovation Fund is administered by HEFCE to support knowledge exchange activity, including public engagement. Some universities use this funding to support their engagement work.  

  • The REF: Public engagement is encouraged as a route to realising impact.  Elsewhere on the site we explain how this is working in practice. Given the value of having 4 star impact case studies, those supporting engagement within their institution can use this as a basis for championing investment into engaged ways of working from their QR funding.  

  • ISSF: some institutions receive funding from the Wellcome Institutional Strategic Support Fund which encourages institutions to invest in areas of strategic importance, which could include embedding effective public engagement into the fabric of the institution 

  • Alumni: institutions often fund raise from their alumni – some universities have chosen to use this income to fund their engagement work.