Areas we invest in

A pink lit corridor with multi-coloured floor projection in the UKRI-supported Compass art installation, British Science Festival 2022

Members of the public interacting with stories from across British research at The Compass: an installation funded by UKRI and commissioned by the British Science Association working with artists, Illuminos, and the social enterprise and event production specialists, Inspirate. Credit: Tom P Morley

We support public engagement as an integral part of UKRI’s research and innovation grants and programmes. Alongside this, we invest in national infrastructure programmes and partnerships to build the skills, capacities and networks that enable long-term, meaningful collaborations. We also pilot innovative approaches to find what works, share lessons and support the growth of effective approaches.

See examples below of our investments:

National programmes

Being Human festival

Being Human is the UK’s only national festival of the humanities, bringing researchers, local community and cultural partners together to create engaging events and projects for all to enjoy. It is delivered by the School of Advanced Study, University of London, and was co-founded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) who continue to fund it along with the British Academy.

CREST awards and British Science Week

We support the British Science Association’s CREST Awards and British Science Week. CREST inspires young people to think and behave like scientists and engineers. It is a nationally recognised scheme for student-led project work in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects.

British Science Week is the UK’s national awareness campaign for science, run by the British Science Association (BSA). Our funding allows BSA to provide grants for disadvantaged schools and community groups from backgrounds that are underrepresented in science to participate in events and activities.

Community Research Networks

The UKRI Community Research Networks programme supported by The Young Foundation seeks to put communities at the heart of research. It gives funding to organisations that are interested in supporting local people across the UK to play a more active role in research and innovation.

Festival of Social Science

The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Festival of Social Science is an annual, UK-wide, free celebration of the social sciences. The festival is an opportunity for anyone to explore topics relating to social science, from health and wellbeing to crime, equality, education and identity. It is delivered by ESRC’s ‘festival partners’ in research organisations across the UK.

Nuffield Research Placements

Nuffield Research Placements help young people over 16 years old, from underrepresented backgrounds, to experience research in real-life laboratories. The programme, developed by the Nuffield Foundation, builds confidence and skills in students. Evaluation has shown that participation increases the confidence of young people in making informed decisions about their next steps.


Sciencewise is a UKRI-funded public dialogue programme that supports government departments and other public bodies to listen to and act on diverse voices to shape policy and priorities. Sciencewise collaborates across the UKRI councils, for instance supporting public dialogues on gene editing in farmed animals in partnership with the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.

STEM Ambassadors

UKRI funds STEM Learning to deliver the STEM Ambassadors network, a national network of 30,000 volunteers working in science, technology, engineering and mathematics who act as relatable role models for young people. They offer talks, clubs, mentoring and workplace visits, raising awareness and understanding of STEM careers through their personal experience.

Wonder Initiative

The Wonder Initiative focuses on working with participants from the 40% most socio-economically deprived areas of the UK, in particular 8 to 14-year-olds and their families and carers. Run by the Science and Technology Facilities Council, it gives underrepresented communities an equal voice by listening, understanding, and responding to what people want to know about science and technology.

Young Innovators Awards

The Young Innovators Awards have given 18 to 30-year-olds funding from Innovate UK to turn ground-breaking ideas into a reality. In 2021 winners came from diverse backgrounds, with nearly a third from ethnic minority groups and 17% identifying as disabled.

National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement

We provide support for public engagement with research through initiatives such as the National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement (NCCPE). The NCCPE helps universities to engage with the public, providing leadership, sharing good practice and a single point of contact for the people working in public engagement across research and innovation.


UKRI funds innovative public engagement pilots to find what works, share lessons and support the growth of effective approaches. Recent pilots include:

Adolescence, mental health and the developing mind

The Adolescence, mental health and the developing mind programme, funded by the Medical Research Council, ESRC and AHRC, is examining how mental health problems emerge in young people, and supporting interventions to promote positive mental health. A young people’s advisory group is ensuring the research addresses the needs of people most affected by these issues.

Community Knowledge Fund

The Community Knowledge Fund is a pilot programme that gives power directly to communities. It is designed to test, learn and share new approaches to funding community-led knowledge generation and innovation.

Digital Innovation and Engagement Fund for museums

UKRI and AHRC partnered with the Museums Association to support 14 museums across the UK to scale up and develop the online resources and engagement they designed through the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Digital Innovation and Engagement Fund brought diverse, underrepresented voices into museums to share their experiences, so that new audiences benefited from different perspectives.

EPSRC public engagement champions

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) are supporting 4 engineering champions and 5 information and communications technology (ICT) champions to inspire and engage the public and attract people to STEM careers.

The public engagement champions are leading a variety of innovative public engagement activities, with a particular focus on engaging more members of underrepresented groups with research. Activities range from developing podcasts and writing children’s storybooks to engaging with schools and community groups.

Funding for participatory research

Research England has allocated £6 million for universities in England to develop or increase the scale of research conducted in partnership with diverse communities. Participatory research involves the communities and users of research, better recognising their experience, needs and preferences, and supporting communities to implement findings.

Healthy Environments dialogue

Between December 2020 and July 2021 we ran the innovative online public dialogue Healthy environments, diverse perspectives to inform decisions about the future of NERC’s healthy environment programme. Ninety-five people from underrepresented groups took part from across the country to shape research priorities.

Last updated: 9 January 2023

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