NUCLEUS (www.nucleus-project.eu) is a four-year project funded by the European Commission. It’s looking at how to make ‘Responsible Research and Innovation’ – EU-speak for things like research impact, public engagement and open access – an integral, embedded part of what all universities and research institutions do.
The NUCLEUS project has 24 partners from 13 different countries, including Georgia, South Africa and China. In Scotland, both the Universities of Aberdeen and Edinburgh are partners but, as the people doing the project in Edinburgh are the Beltane team, we’re trying to ensure all four Beltane partner universities are represented in the project’s work. (EU bureaucracy means Beltane itself cannot actually be a partner – we’re not an official entity.)
Heather and I are in Lyon just now to pull together what the partners all found out in the first year of the project, and to plan the next stage. This first year has been spent doing lots of fact-finding visits to different cities, where we’ve been interviewing people from all sorts of organisations who have an interest in research: city councils, museums, zoos, cinemas, government and parliament officials and, of course, researchers themselves. We’ve tried to find out how research is shared beyond universities, and how this could be made to work better.
A lot of what we’ve found in this first year is practical (e.g. send your final project report to all the organisations who contributed – it’s courteous and helpful). Alongside this, some German social scientists have been conducting rigorous research interviews with academic researchers from the various partner universities. At the current conference, we’re starting to synthesise the practical findings and academic analysis of the interviews to produce recommendations for what universities need to do! These recommendations will then be tried out in test sites during the final two years of the projects; we’ll spend the next 12 months planning for this test period, including recruiting staff who will implement the recommendations.
So how and why is Beltane involved in NUCLEUS? At the most practical level, Beltane needs money to keep its core team’s salaries paid (the Beltane project is currently still fixed-term and has being trying to move beyond being solely reliant on its time-limited university partner funding). However, the EU money coming in can’t be used for bread-and-butter stuff like Beltane Breakfasts and training, so the work we are doing needs to be relevant to the overall Beltane purpose. And it is. A culture of public engagement with research is still not fully embedded in Edinburgh’s universities, even after 8 years of Beltane (although much progress has been made). NUCLEUS should give me and Heather ideas for new practice which could help the Beltane mission by being shared with the wider network so we can all use it.
Another question: what will happen with Brexit? It’s good news in that the UK partners can stay involved with NUCLEUS, and will be funded until the end of the project. However, when we’re here, in Lyon, working so productively with a diverse yet friendly group of people, it’s sad to think we may not be able to be part of what comes next.
And what about Lyon? Well, we’ve been shut inside for the conference, but even the University’s food has been fab! Cheese ahoy! Heather arrived early though, and can vouch for the city’s sights – especially the food markets.
Aside from cheese, the most exciting part of the conference for me personally has been the use of design processes to help us make sense of the masses of data we have. Beltane used these recently in its own future visioning work with Snook. Once again, here in Lyon, it’s helping us see the wood among many tangled trees and to formulate detailed, concrete plans.
After this conference, the Beltane team’s role will be to mentor some of the universities that will be trialling the recommendations from the project to date. Our own experience as a culture change project for public engagement means we have hopefully already managed our way through some of what our mentees will experience. Still, we’re sure there’ll be plenty to learn on both ends of the mentoring relationship!