The Catalyst Seed Fund 2015-2017
The Catalyst Seed Fund (CSF) provided flexible funding directly to Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) to help create a culture where excellent public engagement with research is better embedded within the HEI and appropriately included within its policies, procedures and practices. The programme provided funds of £65,000 per annum to each of 10 designated HEIs following satisfactory assessment of business plans.
A new strategy was developed in the context of the university’s Strategic Framework for 2015-20, which explicitly includes “Influence” as one of its four pillars (alongside Research, Education and Resources). Using the funding, the university recruited an enthusiastic and motivated cohort of mid-career researchers, ‘Leading to Engage’ (L2E) champions to help drive change at a local level within each of five colleges. The second year of CSF funding concentrated on supporting the delivery of the new PER Strategy, with a focus on support, reward and recognition, and Interdisciplinary PER. There was a particular emphasis on sustainability and the overarching aim was to take a “whole life approach” (postgraduate to professor).
The University of Cambridge used its Catalyst Seed Fund to develop a strategic approach to public engagement with research and embed a culture which values and supports excellence in engagement. The methodology focused on the dimensions of ’people’ and ’recognition’ first highlighted in an EDGE tool analysis of our public engagement provision in 2015.
The funding period saw a series of firsts for the University: the first time engagement featured as one of three key missions in a strategy document; the first Dean of Public Engagement appointed and the first public engagement conference held. Among the new changes planned at Glasgow were an expansion of the public engagement team and the establishment of a flexible fund to support development opportunities for public engagement. They were also working on several initiatives designed to strengthen the voice and the leadership in the areas of public engagement with research.
During the first year of the award 48 researchers gained extensive public engagement mentoring and hands-on experience as collaborators during Science Gallery’s pre-opening themed seasons. King’s also established Engagement Services, an arm of Science Gallery London offering free consultations to researchers to support them in building public engagement into their research grant applications. Engagement Services supports researchers to deliver and evaluate their proposed activities, facilitating a guided learning process.
The university used the funding to make significant steps towards PER being a valued activity, which includes the continued institutional support of the public engagement team.
The team has worked collaboratively across the institution to co-develop a vision and strategic plan for public engagement with research, secure continued institutional support for three years and affect the inclusion of public engagement and outreach activity in academic promotion criteria. A vision for PER was developed and integrated into the research cycle.
The University made progress towards becoming fully engaged by making numerous changes to practices and procedures, as well as identifying the remaining challenges.
The funding enabled the University to:
- Develop research-centred partnerships creating public benefit.
- Enhance and evaluate the environment for engaged practice in a holistic way.
- Explore engaging more effectively with important publics, including the next generations of researchers
- Learn from publics in a journey towards becoming fully engaged.
The university built capacity for research and support staff to develop and resource high-quality Public Engagement with Research activities, through training, support and provision of seed funding. Increasing understanding of public engagement as a route to research impact was another important focus, alongside equipping staff with the skills, tools and knowledge to gather evidence of impact.
The university developed a Spectrum of Public Engagement model, providing researchers with accessible routes to engagement and enabling assessment of needs and gaps in provision, and enabling an expanded offer and take-up of PER-related training. A key outcome was the formal creation of a Public Engagement with Research unit (PERu), with ongoing additional institutional support.
The University of Warwick achieved a step-change in PER and embedded it within the institution as part of the academic life of their researchers. The funding enabled the university to focus on building solid foundations of support for activity plus developing and communicating strategy to a diverse community.