culture change, evaluation, policy and funding context

Public and Community Engagement and the KEF: The University of Plymouth story

updated on 11 Oct 2023
3 minutes

Allice Hocking, Head of Research Impact and Partnerships at the University of Plymouth, reflects on their experience of preparing a KEF PCE narrative.

Allice Hocking Head of Research Impact and Partnerships University of Plymouth

09 / 09 / 2020

We first started thinking about our Public and Community Engagement (PCE) narrative for the Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF) back in 2019 when the University of Plymouth was invited to be part of the pilot KEF. We produced a draft narrative, where we focused more on PCE activity, less on strategic direction and impact. Sharing this with other universities, discussing sections and getting constructive feedback from other universities at the pilot meeting was one of the most useful elements for us. It made us think about the importance of being distinctive, playing to our strengths and understanding our audience.

Fast forward a year and spring 2020 found us all working from home during a pandemic with huge challenges for the sector and for delivering public engagement. It also found us looking at a different template for the KEF PCE narrative, one which had a clearer focus on strategy, resources and impact. The template seemed a reasonable way to balance the lack of a widely agreed upon metric in PCE with the need for some kind of consistency. Hopefully in time there will be a sensible way of measuring activity in this area but until then, this seems a good way to keep PCE high up on the KEF agenda.

We started working on the narrative by mapping all the PCE activity both in research and throughout professional services. We took the opportunity to also collect data on evaluation and impact. We will use this mapping not just for the KEF but to develop our longer term public engagement action plan. Alongside the mapping, we produced a rough draft using the narrative template to get a feel for content and any gaps. At this point, we decided we needed additional feedback on our approach, not just for the KEF but to help us take forward our PCE work and potentially prepare for our future submission for the NCCPE’s Engage Watermark. We decided to bring in a specialist, Dr Kerry Leslie, to work in partnership with us and help us take an honest look at our strengths and development areas in public engagement.

Through reviewing documents, interviewing key staff and considering reports, Kerry helped us consider where we had gaps and confirmed, and nuanced, our view on our strengths and good practice. We found that staff were keen to be involved and valued the opportunity to talk about their PCE work and share ideas for new ways of supporting this work. The enthusiasm and great ideas of our staff really added momentum to the work.  The process helped us see how we could strengthen our approach over time and how to align it with work around our Civic Mission.

We have used the mapping and the review to help write the narrative. The hardest part has been agreeing what will get left out; we have had to leave out some excellent work which we just don’t have room for within the word count. However, we plan on producing a more detailed document celebrating our PCE activity in the future, so it will get used and celebrated! Getting the tone right was also a challenge, we opted to write it as if one of our external partners was reading it, so someone interested and with some understanding of public engagement but not from our sector.

Overall, we have found preparing the KEF PCE narrative extremely useful. It has helped us take a step back and consider how we can develop our approach to PCE through the 5 aspects. Our academics have always been keen to undertake public engagement and the KEF has helped raise the profile of this area of their work. We believe the approach we have taken will help us provide more targeted support to academic colleagues, help promote good practice and ensure we build in continuous feedback from our communities.

Allice Hocking is Head of Research Impact and Partnerships at the University of Plymouth.