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University of the West of England - Original Proposal

Visualising engagement: Piloting an approach to mapping out university community and public engagaement

SDP leader
Dee Smart, Co-ordinator Public and Community Engagement, UWE Bristol

Steering group members
Paul Manners, Director of the National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement (NCCPE)
Professor Ron Ritchie, Assistant Vice-Chancellor, Participation, Diversity and Civic Engagement, UWE Bristol
Members of UWE’s Participation, Community and Public Engagement Executive, UWE Bristol

Project's administrative home
University of the West of England, Bristol (UWE)

Aims and objectives
The picture of an engaged university is a complex one. Many individual members of staff are involved in forming collaborative links with external organisations, agencies, the business sector and other HEIs. These links may stem from an individual research interest, a degree programme, a department or a research cluster, or come from a corporate perspective. These dynamic relationships often have associative links to other individuals within the university and the partner organisation, but can also be connected to other networks of relationships. Much work has been done on evaluating demonstrable benefits of partnership working, however there is a gap in understanding these complex, multi-layered relationships.

Kitson’s et al report The Connected University highlights the importance of personal relationships, the development of trusting relationships between the partners and the importance of relational rather than contractual interactions. It suggests that there is a limited understanding among researchers and practitioners of how to develop the ‘connective capacity’ between universities and business and concludes that networks require links not only between sectors, departments and institutions but also within them.

Many universities are the only institutions with the scale and local connectedness to drive economic growth and shape the physical environment and their influence is particularly important in a knowledge-led economic recovery. In this context it is important for a university to understand its own sets of connections and interrelated networks. However, it is challenging to get an overview of what relationships already exist within an institution as they often reside within individual departments or with individual members of staff. In order to develop a holistic approach and become smarter, more efficient, resourceful and agile in responding to societal needs it would be useful for an institution to have a quick way of seeing what expertise exists within it, how it can respond to the needs of the society around it and how the existing connections can be utilised for developing new initiatives and for the benefit of all partners, both current and new ones.

We are proposing to pilot an approach that would enable capturing of these multilayered relationships in a way that can be easily understood and visually represented. The project aims to

  • Understand and communicate the complexities of internal relationships within the university.
  • Understand and communicate the complexities of the relationships between HEIs expertise and how it connects with the society around it.
  • Understand better the complex nature of the relationships with a number of collaborative HE partners and agencies and knowledge exchange networks regarding public engagement.
  • Provide a means for responding better to such complexities and understanding how we can benefit from being more joined up.
  • Build institutional connective capacity and demonstrate that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts in the areas of knowledge exchange and public engagement.
  • Collate evidence of examples of public engagement to share with a wider HE community

This project responds well to several strategic objectives of the Leadership Foundation, in particular building capacity at institutions, stimulating and sharing innovative practices, and facilitating transition and change.

In the initial phase we will undertake a literature search of public engagement within the last ten years and a growing body of literature around effective partnerships and partnership frameworks.

Each University will capture one sample Faculty purposefully chosen, seen as being dynamic in its engagement practices; this will be done through a survey of the existing relationships with the research and knowledge exchange partners.

An analysis of data will be conducted with a range of internal users and the data evaluated. This information will contribute to a mapping exercise to produce dynamic resource maps within a Stakeholder Framework.

A pilot of an associative mind mapping software will be run to produce relational engagement maps. The software will capture complex dynamic relationships that the universities have with external organisations. Based on these mind maps a digital media specialist will be engaged to create a visually appealing Engagement Atlas to encourage interaction with the public.

The results will be tested out with a number of internal and external users to establish if such maps would be useful for understanding the university in a knowledge exchange context.

The final stage would be to design an exemplar of a Stakeholder Framework including a number of podcasts for further dissemination.

Proposed outputs and outcomes
As a result of this funding we intend to:

  • Produce a series of internal maps capturing the expertise that exists within the university. These will be multi-level maps that operate at different scales, e.g. at the institution-wide level or road maps of schools and departments;
  • Produce a series of maps capturing the university public engagement with external organisations. The internal and external maps will make up an Engagement Atlas which will be a two dimensional visual tool for easy understanding of the university and its connectedness with the society around it.
  • Pilot the use of a public engagement repository using an associative mind mapping software.
  • Produce a Stakeholder Framework including a partnership toolkit and associated podcasts.

Complementarity of internal and external maps would help promote a holistic approach and create a better understanding of the university and its public engagement both within the institution and outside it and. It will also provide a means of analysing and updating our engagement and a way of planning to prioritise future partnerships.

We anticipate that this project would be beneficial in providing strategic clarity and as such would be of benefit to HE senior managers and staff in externally facing roles. The benefits would extend to new staff, as part of their induction, and to external organisations who may be working with the university to address a particular societal or city/place-based challenge . It may provide a useful model for colleagues involved in community and public engagement across the sector. Another aspect of this, which we may wish to develop in the future, is to look at mapping our relationships with other HEIs.

Milestones (quarterly).

Feb – April 2012
Report on literature review

May – July 2012
Progress report on data collection

August – October 2012
Progress report on analysis mapping

November – January 2013
Final report; Stakeholder Framework and toolkit

The Engagement Atlas will be available electronically for use within the host institution, e.g. by senior managers, those involved in partnership work and external liaison. A small number of hard copies will be produced as and when required.

The Atlas may also be made available to strategic partners of the host institution.

Internal dissemination through the Participation Executive; CPE Informal Knowledge Exchange Network; Research and Knowledge Exchange events, bulletins, blogs.

A paper to Academic Board regarding the sustainability of this resource.

Dissemination through the NCCPE’s events, such as the annual conference for public engagement professionals; other HEI’s conferences, such as the HEA; workshops and events, such as the Society of Research in HE.

The project proposes to pilot an approach to mapping out university community and public engagement.

Key aims are to:

  • understand and communicate the complexities of multi-layered relationships between HEIs expertise and how it connects with the society around it;
  • provide a means for responding better to such complexities and having a greater strategic clarity;
  • build institutional connective capacity and develop a holistic approach to public engagement and partnership working;
  • become smarter, more efficient, resourceful and agile in responding to societal needs;

To this end we intend to:

  • produce an Engagement Atlas which will be a two dimensional visual tool for easy understanding of the university and its connectedness with the society around it. It will comprise
  • a series of internal maps capturing the expertise that exists within the university. These will be multi-level maps that operate at different scales, e.g. at the institution-wide level or road maps of schools and departments;
  • a series of external maps capturing the university public engagement with external organisations;
  • pilot the use of a public engagement repository using an associative mind-mapping software.
  • produce a Stakeholder Framework including a partnership toolkit and associated podcasts.

The project will benefit HE senior managers, staff in externally facing roles, new employees, existing and potential partners. The outcomes will be shared with the wider HEI Community.

The project reflects well the Leadership Foundation’s strategic objectives, in particular Building capacity at institutions, Stimulating and sharing innovative practices, and Facilitating transition and change.



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