The KEF is launched - what does this mean for public and community engagement?

Today’s launch of the final pieces of the Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF) jigsaw is good news for those of us committed to strategic public and community engagement. Why? Because the KEF takes this work seriously, as a key part of knowledge exchange.

Research England today published final details of the guidance for the KEF, which includes the templates for the Public and Community Engagement and Local Growth and Regeneration narratives. These have been developed after a long process of consultation and piloting. Read our NCCPE KEF Briefing to find out how public and community engagement feature.

Background to the KEF

The KEF is intended to increase efficiency and effectiveness in use of public funding for knowledge exchange. It aims to address the full range of KE activities – and includes Public and Community Engagement (P&CE) as one of its seven perspectives. It has been in development since 2018.  What is significant about today’s publication is that it finalises how P&CE will be assessed – through narrative and self-assessment.

Research England’s avowed goal has been to make the KEF as light touch as possible, drawing on existing data where it exists to enable meaningful comparisons between the activity of clusters of similar HEIs. For five of the seven perspectives, following the consultation and pilot, Research England are confident that the chosen metrics are ‘good enough’ for this purpose with some small tweaks. HEIs don’t need to submit anything – Research England derive the metrics from existing data that they collect.

However suitable metrics for assessing Local Growth and Regeneration and Public and Community Engagement have proved more difficult to find. In the initial consultation Research England suggested a metric drawn from the HE Business and Community Interaction survey for public engagement: time per academic staff FTE committed to public and community engagement across events, performances and museums and galleries.

The NCCPE challenged the robustness of the proposed metric in our consultation response echoing widespread concerns about it. There are a number of reasons why it is hard to find a simple metric to capture the value generated by public and community engagement.  Work in this area covers a very broad spectrum of activity – from engaging the public with research to making community facilities accessible to the public. These activities have different purposes and generate a host of different outcomes which often aren’t evaluated in a systematic way, making drawing of comparisons between institutions based on a single metric really difficult.

Our advice was that a better approach would be to focus on factors which we do know make a difference in the delivery of P&CE: the underpinning behaviours and investments HEIs make to deliver excellent activity.

Since the NCCPE was established we have built a robust body of knowledge about this, developing a self-assessment framework (the EDGE tool) that is informed by theoretical literature and practical experience of ‘what works’. Key factors include having a strategy, built on evidence of need, with a coherent programme of investments and high quality support infrastructure. Hardly rocket science – practical steps proven to realise excellent outcomes.  These are the same principles that have informed the soon to be published KE Concordat; underpin the Concordat for Engaging the Public with Research, which are included in UKRI’s funding assurance framework; and which inform the Civic University Agreements which many HEIs have committed to developing.

We are really pleased that this approach has been accepted as the most pragmatic way forward for the first iteration of the KEF. Building on our consultation response we have provided advice to Research England about how to structure the self-assessment, the results of which have been published today.  We have published an NCCPE KEF Briefing explaining how the process will work.

We think this is the best way forward, at this point in time, for a number of reasons:

  • We don’t think it will add significant burden above that of the narrative on its own, which was already accepted as necessary in this perspective
  • The alignment with the KE Concordat and UKRI Funding Assurance means that the work done to complete the KEF narrative can be easily re-purposed for other reporting purposes. It will also provide really useful evidence to submit to the REF Institutional Environment statement, and in future HEIF returns
  • The process will focus attention on ‘what works’ and trigger useful internal conversations on how well supported and resourced P&CE is within individual HEIs. This will help with the goal of ensuring public engagement is better supported across the sector
  • The results will provide a really rich and well evidenced picture of the current state of support for public and community engagement, to inform future policy and enable HEIs to more readily compare their activity with others
  • It will help communicate the distinctive character and approach to public engagement of different HEIs and clusters of HEIs to potential collaborators and audiences outside the sector, including policy makers.

What’s next?

We are really keen to support HEIs as they work on their responses. To accompany our briefing we are hosting webinar on Thursday March 19th at 2pm. To register for this, please fill in this booking form by midday, Monday 16th of March.

Looking further ahead, we are looking forward to continuing to engage with Research England as they have committed to review this first iteration, and to a busy year of knowledge exchange-related activity.  We will be contributing to the ongoing review of the HE-BCI survey to explore longer term options for data capture. We will also be working hard to support the next wave of the KE Concordat, and to maximise synergy with the Civic University agreements. We will be really interested to see how civic mission gets described in the KEF.

And we’d love to know what you think of the new guidance. Please do use the comment function to feedback your views.

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