Sharing best practice | A blog from Belgrade

2017 has given the core Beltane team some great chances to share learning from the Beltane Network. We’ve been in Glasgow at the SCVO Gathering, in London with the Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas, and in Belgrade with the NUCLEUS project. Here’s what Beltane’s Heather Rea got up to in Serbia…

NUCLEUS working group in Belgrade, Serbia (14-16th March 2017)

NUCLEUS project partners in Belgrade

In mid-March, Heather headed off to Belgrade for one of the working groups of the NUCLEUS project.

NUCLEUS is a European Commission-funded project which is looking at how to create institutional cultures that promote responsible research and innovation (RRI). RRI is European Commission terminology for things like knowledge exchange, technology spin-outs, patient involvement, research ethics and integrity, and public engagement – everything that shows research is being done in ways that minimise its negative effects and maximise its benefits.

The Beltane core team was invited to be part of the NUCLEUS project as it (specifically, Heather) has nearly ten years experience of trying to create institutional cultures that support public engagement with research here in Edinburgh. So far as we know, in spite of Brexit, we get to stay in the project for the foreseeable future!

In the first phase of the NUCLEUS project, project partners undertook a series of visits to different cities and institutions to find out what their culture of RRI was, what was good about it and what was stopping it from being as good as it could be. Now, in this second phase of the project, partners who’ve already been through a process of culture change are mentoring those who want to do so.

Working group in action!

The Beltane core team is responsible for mentoring organisations in South Africa, Serbia, Malta and the Netherlands. Heather’s trip to Belgrade was part of her work to support the Mathematical Institute of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts (MISANU) there, and to discuss more generally with other partners exactly how culture change will be brought about in all of the institutions being mentored.

During the first day of the working group, the mentee institutions presented their initial cultural self-assessments. They had used a self-evaluation process (adapted from the NCCPE’s EDGE tool) to help them identify the opportunities and risks of embedding RRI in their organisations.  Heather then led a session introducing some change strategy tools, including the Theory of Change.

On the second day, working group participants heard about the Cultural Adaptation Report, which compared the contexts of RRI in China versus South Africa. (Field trips to both were undertaken in the first phase of NUCLEUS.) The partners then put their heads together to come up with a vision of what the roadmap for embedding RRI (due in August 2017) should look like. And finally, everyone took some time to draw up a draft person specification for the jobs that some of the mentee organisations will be advertising shortly; these jobs will be for staff to drive the change in their organisations (not unlike the jobs of the Beltane core team).

Zoran (L), our key contact at MISANU

Once the working group was over, Heather had an afternoon to meet with the MISANU team to discuss next steps. This included a meeting with the President of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts, who expressed the Academy’s support for RRI and the NUCLEUS project (thank goodness), and a roundtable discussion with some of MISANU’s leading mathematicians. The discussion explored what RRI means to MISANU and the importance of making explicit, through governance structures, the tacit RRI knowledge that the founding members of MISANU possess. It’s likely that a Memorandum of Understanding between MISANU and the University of Edinburgh (the NUCLEUS grant-holder, as Beltane is not a ‘legal entity’) will be put in place to make working together on the project easier.

So, aside from great discussions, good food and wine, and wonderful hospitality, what did Heather take from her visit? And how will this benefit the Beltane Network community back in Edinburgh? Well, although Heather is mentoring rather than a mentee, the very process of mentoring, especially of an organisation that is in different circumstances to Edinburgh’s four universities, is a robust test of the culture change methodologies used by Beltane and its partner institutions over the last decade. The wider understanding of culture change gained from this will not only help further establish the whole Beltane Network as an (international) centre of expertise, but may well reveal opportunities for refining what we all do back in Edinburgh.

The onus is, of course, on the Beltane core team to communicate the knowledge and insights accumulated through NUCLEUS through the wider Beltane partnership. We’ll do this through blogs like this, reports like these and network meetings. There is also going to be an opportunity for colleagues from Beltane’s four universities to attend key NUCLEUS meetings in person (cutting out the middle man!), both to contribute and listen. If you would like to attend meetings like the October 2017 NUCLEUS conference, give Heather a call (0131 650 4875) or email

And should you visit Belgrade? Absolutely! It is a city living vigorously in the midst of its recent past. As you pass by faded but grand old buildings, warehouses and communist cement blocks, you glimpse interiors that are trendy, opulent and cozy, with wafts of music and garlic-enriched food escaping into the air around you. The uncertainty residents have lived through – a local told Heather he had had four different passports in his thirty years on the planet – is unfathomable to many of us, yet organisations like MISANU have been pursuing knowledge at the highest level throughout the unrest. Add wonderful hospitality, food and wine to the many incredible examples of resilience you’ll bear witness to, and you’ve got a truly inspirational destination.