Thursday, 20 January 2011

NCCPE Conference, London - Day 2

OK, OK, a little later than expected... Here's the follow on to Day 1...

Tuesday 8th December 2010

Paul Gough (UWE) chaired the first plenary of day 2 on 'Public Engagement in Hard Times'. During this, we heard from David Sweeney (Research, Innovation and Skills, HEFCE) and Linda Quinn (the Big Lottery Fund).

David talked about 'uncertain times' and the continued commitment to the strategic plan... and admitted that we're "unlikely to see the repeat of initiatives such as the Beacons because of fundamental changes to the funding landscape".

He went on to propose that institutions should be given the flexibility to use core funds as they wish (e.g. for public engagement) and provide support staff to assist research staff when writing 'Pathways to Impact' statements, together.

Linda described the "Big Society" through empowerment, engagement and localism. She raised the possibility for organisations - including universities! - to apply for lottery funding for specific projects. Linda's other points included asking how the community can identify and encourage partnerships between the voluntary sector and HEIs and that "in bad times, the lottery continues to grow".

For the parallel sessions, I opted for:
(1) 'Embedding Public Engagement in Higher Education - Issues and Actions' hosted by Danny Burns from the Institute of Development Studies at Sussex University.

In groups, we worked through the 'draft conclusions and recommendations of the National Actions Research programme' document. We discussed the content, presentation and the terminology, before feeding back to the larger group.

A few key issues were identified here, including:
- The role of Heads of Department (or indeed of Schools/Colleges), equity and payment.
- Space and place, e.g. physical infrastructure and accessibility considerations... What would buildings look like if they were built for public engagement? How can we meet expectations? We may be engaging with schools but many school buildings are of higher quality than those of universities!
- Good public engagement needs to be responsive i.e. the current systems are designed for high volumes of research and teaching.
- Recognition and incentives to change e.g. within promotion criteria.
- Organisation and management of public engagement i.e. its needs to be planned and organised at a group level.

I was really chuffed to see 7.(e) incorporated: "We make some big assumptions because we are functioning in a web-based world. Some publics not accessible through that means. Greater use can be made of local notice-boards, the local paper and so on."

Some of the other comments and queries related to issues of: language, terminology used; definitions, boundaries and disciplines set; illustrations, videos and supplementary materials potentially being useful; making the document 'future proof'.

The full report can be accessed here.

(2) Taster session on 'Using Segmentation Tools for Public Engagement Benefit' hosted by Clive Barnet from the Open University.

Clive explained how there's considerable literature on why people don't opt to use market segmentation tools in public engagement.

He identified three fields in which such tools may be applied:
(i) Public sector (DEFRA, DFID etc) - segmenting to change people's attitudes, to change people's behaviour. [Technographic, participatory segmentation]
(ii) The Arts, broadcasting, media and cultural sectors - market segmentation in areas where its all about audience engagement, the audience/visitor.
(iii) Campaigning, the WWF, etc - where the market is values-based.

From this, Clive went on to identify four issues, or 'tensions', for HEIs.
- How public(s) are conceptualised; found or made? Qualitative methodologies to shape or find these public(s)?
- The continuum of different levels of engagement.
- Using segmentation in a discriminatory way; in a more inclusive way for diversity through specific targeting.
- The ethical and reputational issues regarding the use of marketing tools.

(3) 'Public Engagement as a Pathway to Impact Round Table' hosted by Ruth Potter from RCUK.

Although I knew little about what to expect, from a personal and dot.rural perspective, this session turned out to be the most useful and interesting of the two-day conference.

Referring back to the 'what's in it for me?' RCUK publication for researchers (see the Day 1 blog) Ruth presented her top tips for writing 'Pathways to Impact' statements... and to getting projects funded:
- consider and include project specific costs.
- think about how to maximise the benefits.
- focus on two-way engagement.

You can download a copy of Ruth's slides on 'Public Engagement with Research as a Pathway to Impact' here.

We then heard from Phillipa Bayley and Steve Cross on some of the exciting work being done at the University of Bristol and UCL, respectively, to support researchers in writing high-quality impact statements.

A few points from Phillipa's case-study...
* Considerations when writing statements
- Who/what might be impacted? e.g. people, knowledge, the economy, society.
- Think creatively about forms of engagement.
- Focus on two-way engagement.
- When doing public engagement, always talk about 'impact'.
- Link into existing networks.
- Build in strategies to form longer-term partnerships with communities and organisations.
- Always give detailed costings.
* Putting institutional support in place
- Establish an impact working group.
- Run faculty-based impact workshops.
- Provide support for individual academics.
- Supplement these with online resources.

You can download a copy of Phillipa's slides on 'Impact at the University of Bristol' here.

And similarly, some from Steve...
* Further considerations when writing impact statements
- Ensure the statement includes a willingness to pursue a variety of interests and opportunities, both public and press related.
- Identify the specific communities and/or areas aiming to reach or engage with.
- Specify a few things (i.e. events or activities) which can definitely be delivered.
- ...And add in a few potential others which may happen, depending on availability of resources and the unpredictability of the research findings, for example.

Both Phillipa and Steve explained how they regularly review impact statements - from a public engagement perspective - before submission to the research councils.

Some great models for dot.rural and the University of Aberdeen to adopt perhaps?

During the workshop, we also heard about the dangerous confusion or mis-use of 'dissemination' and 'two-way dialogue', along with a call for the language and message of impact to be standardised across research councils.

The output of the 'Pathways to Impact' session can be downloaded here.

The final plenary of the day, and of the conference, entitled 'Public Engagement: What Might the Future Hold?', was chaired by Paul Manners (Director, NCCPE) and presented by Gisele Yasmeen (Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada) and Sir David Watson (University of Oxford).

Gisele's presentation was particularly exciting - urging us to reflect on the three 'types of communicators' in attendance. It seems they are, the communicators: who view "engagement as a contact sport"; falling under the PR and communications umbrella; known as the 'techno crowd' (focusing on IT, open access and open data).

Finally, David had the non-trivial task of broaching 'what the future holds...'. Of course, he couldn't avoid mentioning HEIs and the credit crunch. He went on to spin this as yielding "forks in the road"! David considers such forks to include:
1. student choices
2. public investment - emphasising the need for HEIs to be ready when the government returns to a state of investment...
3. business/industrial investment - providing incentives for investment and the requirement on universities to be more/less business-like...
4. more/less autonomy - the issue of governance, reiterating that there are going to be no more special initiatives...
5. more/less government interference
6. the 'for profit' sector - the need for fostering more partnerships
7. competition for staff - the possibility of a brain-drain...
8. 'world classness'
9. indigenous/transnational development
10. closing down or opening up? What will happen to the sector as a whole?

So, I hope that provides an overview of the first (of many!) NCCPE two-day conference, in which I lost count of the number of times 'toolkits', 'public(s)', 'impact'... and, of course, 'Brian Cox' were mentioned! :-)

See you next year!

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