Firstly, I had a little panic about conference dress codes. I am not going to go into this as there are loads of blogs and articles on what to wear to a conference and when it comes down to it, none of them really help!
Engage 2014 is being held at the Marriott Royal in Bristol which is beautiful, and in a beautiful location that I am not going to have time to see. So it is going on my list of places to visit.
This post may turn into a bit of a brain dump during the day, so apologies for random paragraphs. Hopefully I will be able to make it all make sense.
The plenary session included input from AHRC and HEFCE. I might have to write something later about this, it was really interesting.
My first workshop session was run by Cardiff University and was about the flagship community engagement projects they are running.
Cardiff University have a new(ish) focus on community work and have five projects in various local, national and global areas that engage with people who may not normally engage with their university. I won’t go into the projects but their lessons learnt are quite interesting.
Lessons learnt so far by Cardiff University:
Choose the most appropriate academic lead
Clear central support for the projects
Importance of good project management
Do not rely on individuals
One of the points they have made is that as they are so close to the National Assembly they take s great deal of interest in what is going on. This means that some of the MPs are following progress on the projects, so they have a priority within the minds of the higher management in the university. This is good and bad, there is pressure to deliver, but at the same time the projects are being paid attention to. There seems to be a university management wide involvement in these projects which gives everyone a stake in the projects.
One of the high profile academics teaches, researches, runs a clinic, works on innovation and also leads on one of the projects. It just goes to show it can be done, engagement does not have to be a stand alone activity or replace other responsibilities of academics. Although in some cases I think that this may take some persuading! It seems to be though that the interest of higher authorities (in this case the first minister of Wales) makes people a lot more enthusiastic to be involved and see the project through to the end.
The five projects have been adapted and built from previous community engagement projects that had identified local community needs and were already working in those areas. Business cases were put together for their executive board to show their benefits to the university and the research taking place, local community and how they fit within the regional governments priorities.
In our discussion we are talking about what communities want from engagement as often what they want and what the university wants are entirely different. CU asked existing structures, community boards, and local groups what they wanted. However this could mean that thinking in the projects needs to change as they may only serve the purpose of the university and not the communities which defeats the point. By listening to the communities we have the chance to listen and create projects and research that can impact policy makers locally, regionally and nationally. This could get the communities interested in the bigger policies and governance of their area and wider – look at the voting in the Scottish Referendum, those communities cared about the topic.
I have realised that my notes on this are getting really long so I am splitting it up into morning and afternoon as well as by day! There is so much to write, so many ideas and great people to talk to about their experiences. More to come!