Focus On The Positive at UCL

Focus On The Positive Event

Focus On The Positive was an NCCPE Engage Competition award winner in 2014, winning in the Collaboration category. Hilary Jackson, Public Engagement Co-ordinator at University College London (UCL), shares some insights into the development of the project and its progress over the last two years.

Much of my time as one of UCL’s public engagement coordinators is spent nurturing our staff and students to develop and deliver their own public engagement activities. It’s incredibly rewarding and interesting work, and I love helping UCL people find mutually beneficial ways to share their research and teaching with people outside the institution.

Using funding from UCL’s Impact Acceleration Account from EPSRC, Lizzy Baddeley and I developed Focus on the Positive, which won a prize at the NCCPE’s Engage Awards 2014.

Focus on the Positive is a public event at which a handful of UCL researchers put forward their ideas – related to their own research – to make the world a better place. After listening to the pitches and quizzing speakers on their plans, the audience votes to choose their favourite projects, and winning speakers are awarded a cash prize on the night to help their projects become real.

Focus on the Positive is designed to be democracy in action on a small scale, giving a public audience an opportunity to choose from a handful of excellent projects, and then see those projects flourish. Winning projects have included a water engineer digging wells in Bangladesh to combat the problems he researches, and an academic working on urban food-growing supporting a particularly important London community garden.

Reflective Evaluation and Making Changes

We were delighted to win a prize at the 2014 Engage Awards for our work, particularly considering the other really impressive candidates! Alongside the great partnerships we developed (for example with the University of the Third Age), one of the main reasons why we won, and why Focus on the Positive has become a good project, is the reflective evaluation that we undertook as a team. This has been led by our Evaluation Officer Gemma Moore.

In the early stages of the project, we knew that there were some problems but we didn’t have time to address them, we were so busy running the event. We weren’t supporting our presenters well enough: winners needed help to deliver their plans and people who didn’t win still wanted to find ways to bring their ideas to life. We had also mis-targeted our audience: with a wealth of experience from Bright Club, we had gone back to our pub audience, but we knew the event was more serious, and required more input, than a pub audience really wanted.

Under Gemma’s expert guidance, we took some time to work out our priorities and we made some major changes. The project went from one that made our hearts sink to one that made our hearts sing! One of the great things about the prize is that it reminds to keep taking time during our projects for formative reflection. It’s so valuable.

Looking Forward

Things have changed quite a bit since we won our prize. This is not least due to a UCL Public Engagement Unit baby glut moving responsibility for the project around the team! However, Focus on the Positive lives on. My colleagues Philippa Richardson and Tadhg Caffrey here in the Unit are now working on two new events using funding from the Wellcome Trust (funding that our prize helped secure).

Tadhg is finalising the line-up for the first event as I write. He says “I’m expecting pitches on subjects ranging from improving mental health services to discussing North London women’s experiences of living with sexually transmitted diseases; from food workshops with patients to infant feeding projects with the Bangladeshi community”. It will be really good to try Focus on the Positive in different subject areas and see on how this changes the event. We’d love to see other organisations try the format and tell us what they learn!

Tadhg and Philippa’s events are on Thursday 16 June and Wednesday 20 July, and I’m excited to discover what this next phase of Focus on the Positive will bring. Keep an eye on the Focus on the Positive blog to find out more!

The NCCPE Engage Competition 2016 is open for entries until July 18th. Find out more and apply.

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