Edinburgh Beltane Public Engagement Network, Queen Margaret University

QMU is a member of the Edinburgh Beltane Public Engagement Network (Beltane). This is a longstanding 15-year collaborative network for researchers interested in making academic research accessible to a wide variety of audiences with an emphasis on co-production. The Beltane comprises four Edinburgh universities: the University of Edinburgh, Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh Napier University and QMU. The Beltane supports researchers through formal and informal learning programmes, fellowships, and opportunities to engage. The Beltane allows partner universities to share good practice, build on reciprocal public engagement training arrangements and supports interdisciplinary pathways to impact.

1. Please provide a brief description of the KE project/ case study and why you believe it is considered good practice or innovative (and for whom).

The Beltane partnership is a long-term collaboration in its 15th year. We have had peaks and troughs but it is genuinely embedded in all of the institutions. The partnership is about sharing our public engagement profile, resource and expertise. Each of the partners offers something different so we’ve all benefited from mutual learning and have been able to complement each other’s expertise. Despite QMU’s small size and because of our involvement in the Beltane, QMU has been involved in a number of high-profile policy influencing and advocacy initiatives.

Through the partnership, our researchers can access information about the growing field of, and issues around, public engagement through workshops and regional partnerships with local schools and museums.

2. Where did the idea for the project/ programme come from? Was this related to a strategic objective? How did you secure senior buy in?

The Beltane partnership was originally formed in 2008, when the universities in Edinburgh were awarded over £1 million of funding to become an RCUK Beacon for Public Engagement. From 2012-2017, the Network was funded by the four universities in Edinburgh to provide a central team based at The University of Edinburgh. This funding has now ended, but the partnership continues, in keeping with the pooling and collaborative approaches that are characteristic strengths of the Scottish higher education sector. 

3. What impact/ outcome has this project/ activity had on your university? Students? Local economy? Staff? Other external parties, e.g. businesses.

As a group, we have been very involved in contributing to an inclusive regional economy and partnering with local stakeholders. We have worked together to help each other access funds and that complementary collaborative expertise makes it easier. With the Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Region Deal, we have been able to bring another dimension to different types of stakeholder engagement. That comes with trust.

We have also benefited from shared advocacy through the Beltane. Beltane was very pro-active in shaping how the Scottish Parliament worked with universities.

In terms of recruiting scholars and researchers, we offer shared training across all four institutions for our academics to do public engagement work.

4. How did you measure impact?

We measure the number of staff attending and engaging and conversion into grant applications and joint supervision etc. After 10 years, we’ve also had consultants in to do a review of different projects and to conduct a full evaluation of the partnership.

5. What types of resources were required to implement this project? 

The partnership came into fruition through the original RCUK grant and following on from that, all of the partner institutions invested. Since then, we have been able to leverage some occasional pots of money and we have a mixed model of long-term sustainability.

As a smaller institution, we make more of a financial contribution to the network because we don’t have a full-time public engagement resource.. Other institutions have full-time officers and can dedicate more time.

6. What are the governance structures in place to oversee it?

Originally, we had core funding so it came with a heavy governance structure. After 10 years, we carried out a review, and as institutions we all agreed to a shared agreement governed by a MOU that is updated every year. There are operational leads and senior leadership leads at each institution. Governance is very light touch as the senior leadership group meets only once a year. The operational leads meet once a month then we bring all the academics together for an annual gathering every June to try to focus on new external opportunities for funding. Last year, the focus was on place-based research and grand challenges. 

7. Describe any challenges that you have had to overcome either before, during or after implementing this project?

Public engagement is seen as so separate from SME engagement. In many ways they are very  similar but the boundaries are quite defined and that has become very apparent in this collaboration. As a small institution, our engagement with both public and private is tied into one but collaboration is limited by those boundaries in larger organisations. As a small institution, we can be less risk averse and hopefully   bring something different to the table.  The impact of Covid 19 on public engagement has definitely been a challenge but the Beltane partnership has worked really creatively to address this.

8. Next steps?

The four Universities have signed a new Manifesto to continue to grow and develop the partnership. We are definitely focused on place-based engagement and maximising our partnership profile. We’d also like to bring in more public and leveraged funds like shared prosperity funding from Councils as well as strengthening our collaborative position in the Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Region deal.  At QMU, we are working with East Lothian Council to look at novel approaches to community wealth building through our new Innovation Hub.  In Scotland, the new Scottish Funding Council (SFC) Knowledge Exchange and KE Innovation Fund (KEIF)  and embedding the KEC  means Public and Community Engagement are firmly embedded in institutional KE strategy and thinking, and the long-established Beltane network has put us all in a strong position to embed these changes in our institutions.

beltane project queen margaret university

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