What can we learn from business engagement?

Business engagement event

What can those who engage with the public learn from those engaging with business? There is lots of commonality in business and community engagement. Sarah Ward from the University of Exeter and NCCPE Public Engagement Ambassador introduces us to a project that worked with businesses across the South West.

The Centre for Business and Climate Solutions (CBCS) at the University of Exeter assisted 208 businesses in the South West of England to mitigate against, adapt to and develop solutions for the impacts of climate change. Particular sectors were targeted, which were construction, environmental technologies, tourism, water and marine.

The project started with recognition that the business community is often left out of research on climate impacts and actions. The idea was to give the businesses access to the academic and practical expertise of the project partners to co-cultivate a business culture of responding to climate impacts by developing new or improving existing processes, services or products. The CBCS team was tasked with providing a ‘business assist’, which took the form of 12 hours of bespoke engagement time, based on the needs of the business. Projects ranged from implementing new water and energy monitoring systems to improve businesses’ environmental credentials, to developing and helping commercialise innovative energy generation and rainwater harvesting technologies.

And here come the figures…. Of the 208 businesses assisted, 49 joined new networks, 31 realised new commercial opportunities, 25 launched new products or processes, 10 developed new products and a number of new jobs were created, all with a climate change impacts focus. The co-created programme of provision delivered by the CBCS team consisted of bespoke workshops, reports and visits (or combinations of each) through which the businesses and the experts could exchange knowledge and ideas, discuss problems and identify solutions and work on turning challenges into opportunities. Panel discussions at a range of CBCS and other organisation’s events were held and approaches such as community-based learning (where students completed projects in collaboration with the businesses) and developing a community of practice focused on environmental technologies were undertaken. 

I think that one of the keys to making an engagement activity really successful, is that all parties need to believe in it and stick with it even when it gets tough. Taking a step back, talking, reflecting and reformulating are complex and time consuming tasks but they are essential and work really well for keeping things relevant. A top tip would be not being afraid to ask the ‘silly’ questions and talk to the ‘wrong’ people! It’s all a big learning experience and your activity will be better for it! Communicating about and throughout your project is also vital and a great way to do this is by writing a case study for the NCCPE or making a video – you can check out the CBCS project’s YouTube channel here, to see more about what went on.

Why not check out the full case study and let us know what you think.

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