Supporting Excellence in Engaged Research

Professor Richard Holliman, The Open University. Credit: Michael Francis.

Professor Richard Holliman, The Open University. Credit: Michael Francis.

I’ve recently agreed to take on a new role at the Open University (OU) as the Academic Lead for Engaged Research. I’ll be based in the OU’s Research and Academic Strategy (RAS) Unit for half of my time from 1st August 2017.

A key objective for my work in this new role will be to align the principles and practices of engaged research with the OU’s recently-approved Academic Strategy for External Engagement, in particular addressing the following aim:

“We will create new knowledge through research, scholarship and professional practice that meets the needs of external stakeholders and extends the reach and impact of our research on society, culture, economy and governments across the UK and internationally.”

Through this work, the OU will also fulfil its commitment to the RCUK Concordat for Engaging the Public with Research, and the NCCPE Manifesto for Public Engagement (of which the OU is a signatory).

Building on success

An open research university (Holliman et al. 2015). Design: Peter Devine. Image: Beck Pitt.

An open research university (Holliman et al. 2015). Design: Peter Devine. Image: Beck Pitt.

The new role will build on the learning gained from three recent projects:

• The RCUK-funded Public Engagement with Research (PER) Catalyst, An Open Research University, ran as one of eight culture change initiatives based in UK universities to identify, share and embed state-of-the art principles and practices of engaged research (Holliman et al., 2015; Grand et al., 2016; 2015).

Engaging Opportunities ran as one of 12 national structured and strategic partnerships, funded by RCUK through the School-University Partnership Initiative (SUPI). Over four years (2013-2016) the OU and the Denbigh Teaching School Alliance (DTSA) worked collaboratively to deliver engagement activities to raise aspirations and improve the life-chances for more than 6,500 people from across Milton Keynes (Holliman et al., 2017a; 2017b; Holliman and Davies, 2015).

• Through the Developing productive partnerships with end-users project, Clare Warren and I worked with colleagues to support postgraduate researchers through a training programme that covered skills and competencies in engagement and communication (Holliman and Warren, 2017).

One of the training workshops, conducted in 2017. The photo includes NERC-funded postgraduate researchers and members of the training team. Photo: Gareth Davies.

One of the training workshops, conducted in 2017. The photo includes NERC-funded postgraduate researchers and members of the training team. Photo: Gareth Davies.

Public Engagement: Attitudes, Culture and Ethos (STFC, 2016).

Public Engagement: Attitudes, Culture and Ethos (STFC, 2016).

Continuity and change
To be successful, the OU will need to take account of our existing culture alongside recent (and ongoing) developments across the higher education sector.

This has included work with RCUK, STFC and NERC as they refreshed strategy documentation and funding calls for public engagement with research, and a Working Group to explore the ethos, attitudes and culture of physical science researchers as they engage with stakeholders, end-users and members of the public (PEACE Report).

It won’t come as a surprise that we will also need to take account of the transition from RCUK to UKRI and next Research Excellence Framework (REF). To this end, I contributed to a workshop to develop a vision and mission for UKRI public engagement, an assessment of public engagement within REF 2014, and to the REF 2021 Consultation that was recently coordinated by HEFCE.

Looking forwards

I’m looking forward to working with colleagues in RAS, and research leaders, researchers and research support staff from across the University to support REF impact preparations across Units of Assessment, leading and/or advising bids for external funding for engaged research and public engagement, and helping position the OU as a leader in engaged research.

References

Grand, A., Holliman, R., Collins, T. and Adams, A. (2016). “We muddle our way through”: shared and distributed expertise in digital engagement with research. JCOM , 15(04), A05, pp. 1-23. Online: http://oro.open.ac.uk/46686.

Grand, A., Davies, G., Holliman, R. and Adams, A. (2015). Mapping public engagement with research in a UK university. PLOS ONE, 10(4) pp. 1–19. Online: http://oro.open.ac.uk/43126.

Holliman, R. and Warren, C.J. (2017). ‘Supporting future scholars of engaged research’, Research for All, 1(1), pp. 168-184. Online: http://oro.open.ac.uk/48223.

Holliman, R., Davies, G., Russell, M., Steed, A., Brown, H., Pearson, V., Ford, D., Collins, T., Scanlon, E., Sumner, J., Stutchbury, K., Lee, C., Ansine, J., Kendall, J., Green, P., Sharp, D., Whitelegg, E., Dommett, E., Bullivant, M., Squires, A., Braithwaite, N., Swinthenby, S. and Hawthorne, V. (2017a). Final Report for “Engaging Opportunities”. The Open University’s School-University Partnership Initiative (SUPI). Produced for Research Council UK’s Public Engagement with Research Network and the SUPI Advisory Board. Online: http://www.open.ac.uk/blogs/per/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/SUPI_Final_Report_Submitted_30-03-17.pdf.

Holliman, R., Davies, G., Pearson, V., Collins, T., Sheridan, S., Brown, H., Hallam, J. and Russell, M. (2017b, in press). ‘Planning for engaged research: a collaborative ‘Labcast’’, in Kucirkova, N. and Oliver Quinlan, O. (eds.) The Digitally Agile Researcher. Open University Press, Maidenhead. Online: http://www.open.ac.uk/blogs/per/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/Holliman_et_al_Labcast_evaluation_in-press.pdf.

Holliman, R., Adams, A., Blackman, T., Collins, T., Davies, G., Dibb, S., Grand, A., Holti, R., McKerlie, F., Mahony, N. and Wissenburg, A. (2015). An Open Research University: Final Report. The Open University: Milton Keynes. Online: http://oro.open.ac.uk/44255.

Holliman, R. and Davies, G. (2015). Moving beyond the seductive siren of reach: planning for the social and economic impacts emerging from school-university engagement with research. JCOM, 14(03), C06, pp. 1-10. Online: http://oro.open.ac.uk/44415.


Dr Richard Holliman is Professor of Engaged Research at The Open University, UK. Through his teaching and engaged research, he explores relationships between academic researchers and non-academic stakeholders. He is particularly interested in the interplay between digital technologies and different forms of knowledge and expertise, and how the practices of engagement shape and frame contemporary research.

Richard is an Associate Editor of a new journal called Research for All and a member of STFC’s Advisory Panel for Public Engagement (APPE).

His publications are listed at: http://oro.open.ac.uk/view/person/rmh47.html.