Warwick Institute of Engagement, Warwick University

We set up the Warwick Institute of Engagement to create a pan university hub for academic and professional services staff, as well as students, to come together, share good practice and create strategic public and community engagement initiatives. The Institute has fundamentally enhanced the ways the University collaborates and engages regionally and nationally.

WIE Fellowship 2022
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).

Conversations about setting up the Institute began in 2019 off the back of hosting the British Science Festival. There were some great academics doing lots of good KE but no hub to share good practice and generate strategic programmes so that we could be more than just the sum of our individual parts. We recognized that this needed to change if we were going to take advantage of upcoming opportunities such as Coventry hosting the UK City of Culture (21-22).

In 2020 we set up the Institute informally, and in July 2021, it was formally funded by the University. Warwick is a campus-based university which can offer fantastic opportunities but this can also be a challenge – particularly in terms of local communities feeling welcome on campus and the University being welcomed into communities. The Institute has changed our dynamic in terms of how we collaborate with local communities and make them feel at home on our campus.

The Institute divides its work into two key areas: building capacity and expertise amongst staff and students for public engagement and creating the right opportunities for public engagement both on and off campus. In our first 18 months of formal operation, we have taught public engagement modules, set up a staff and student online skills festival, a collaboration fund, mentoring programmes, networking conferences and cafes, as well as public engagement awards to showcase, teach, fund, and recognise good practice and projects to enable great public engagement.  

Dr Phil Jemmett delivering a session at Slice of Science 2023Figure 2: Dr Phil Jemmett delivering a session at Slice of Science 2023

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?

We wanted to maintain the momentum created by British Science Festival and be able to make the most of Coventry: City of Culture. At the same time, Warwick’s 2030 strategy has ‘regional leadership’ as a key objective, and the University is committed to continuing to improve its Knowledge Exchange including recognition of our performance through the Knowledge Exchange Framework. These elements helped ensure that the Institute received support from University leaders.

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

Since our inception we have appointed over 150 staff and students to become Fellows of the Institute and over 2200 staff and over 2000 students have been involved in our training, courses and programmes.

Figure 3: Students hosting Live Labs 2022

In its first year of operation, our Collaboration fund supported 14 projects working with 18 partner organisations, 11 artists and over 890 people. After 1 year, these 14 projects have led to: 10 further collaborative funding bids, 2 publications, 2 conferences, 2 PE events and contribution to development of 2 new Uni research centres.

We also set up the Warwick Awards for Public and Community Engagement, to ensure recognition for all staff and students for their work in this area, alongside supporting over 85 staff in making their public and community engagement work part of their promotion cases.

As part of City of Culture year (21-22), WIE ran the Resonate festival – a year-long festival of over 150 free events in and around Coventry. We welcomed 12,000 people involving 240 staff and 150 students, 80 artists and 60 regional organisations. 81% of attendees said they had a more positive image of the University as a result and 38% said they had a more positive feeling about their community as a result of the events.

Figure 4: Families Participating in Resonate Festival 2022

After that, we kept up the momentum by establishing Resonate as our own on-going public events brand (which WIE funds and markets in conjunction with external agencies). So far in 22-23, we have hosted 43 events generating over 20,000 interactions with the public across Coventry and Warwickshire, delivered by 94 staff and 177 students, in conjunction with 27 community organisations.

4. How do you measure impact?

We measure impact through continual evaluation of our training, teaching and events, alongside annual longitudinal analysis of the on-going impact of our funded projects, in comparison to our strategic objectives. Coventry City of Culture year gave us a baseline set of activities so each activity had a full evaluation and the learning is based on comparisons to that first year.

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

 WIE required a significant ongoing investment from the University to create a core team of both permanent and part bought-out academic and professional services staff, alongside a budget for training, programmes and events. This comes from a mix of HEIF funding and University core funding. A key element of the Institute’s success is that it has at its heart University core funding, which allows it to plan over the medium and longer term.

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

 Importantly, WIE sits within the Strategy Group of the university, reporting to the Registrar, who has responsibility for the delivery of the University’s 2030 strategy, as well as to the Vice President for Regional and National Engagement.

Crucial to WIE’s success is our Fellowship model. We now have over 150 students and staff appointed as WIE Fellows, who contribute through 12 Learning Circles, each dedicated to different aspects of public and community engagement (e.g. collaboration and co-production, pedagogy, evaluation, rewards and inclusion).The Fellowship and core team work together to ensure WIE brings everyone’s voice and experience together.

Figure 7: WIE Fellows at Fellows Event 2022

WIE has also appointed 12 Regional Fellows from our regional communities with strong cultural and regional remits, with whom we collaborate on the development of our programmes, ensuring we have the regional voice to be at the heart of what we do.

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

If academics had more time to do KE, they would be far more engaged. People need to see the value of investing their time and we do this through our Recognizing, Reward and Incentives programme. Warwick University is also testing in 23-24 a new workload model approach, that can include time for Public and Community Engagement activities.

8. What advice would you give others in trying to engage with hard-to-reach groups? Have you considered EDI within your strategy?

The Resonate festival 21-2 ran over 12 months and aligned with the City of Culture missions. It also helped us to build external partnerships and trust with harder to reach groups as well as to enable us to engage with a range of venues and communities across the city. Some of these initial engagements have grown into strategic relationships. Our external Regional Fellows are also a great asset and help to broker relationships with hard to reach groups. This is complemented by an internal EDI focus led both by our core team and by our Inclusive Public Engagement Learning Circle. The key learning is that building strong trusted relationships takes time and requires a long term commitment.

9. Next steps?

We want to build more partnerships and collaborative outcomes over the longer term, expand public and community engagement as part of our Warwick student experience, and further build up our Resonate programme.

WIE Fellows at Fellows Event 2022 small

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