In our latest Civic University Network blog, Paul Manners from the National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement (NCCPE) shares a few highlights from the forthcoming annual NCCPE Engage conference; including a few of the highlights, demonstrating just how woven together the public engagement and civic engagement agendas are

The last 10 years have seen engagement increasingly rising up the Higher Education agenda, with pressure to change coming from many directions. The rise of the Civic Agenda has provided added momentum, foregrounding the need for strategic, committed and skilful engagement across all areas of a university’s activity.

The last 12 months have significantly accelerated activity, with COVID-19 shining a spotlight on the interdependency between universities and their communities. In most universities, teams working on various strand of engagement – public, business, policy, health etc. – are pooling their expertise to deliver a step change in activity.

The Civic University Network plays host to a fantastic community of professionals working in this space, to lead on and deliver change in their universities. It is exciting to see how much common purpose there is across these different specialisms. The National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement is one of the founding partners in the network – and we’re delighted to see so many public engagement teams across the UK taking a leading role in supporting their HEI’s civic ambitions.

A key moment in the year for us is our annual Engage conference, which we are taking online this year as a week-long festival (Monday 30th November to Friday 4th December).‘Civic’ agendas and place-based practice is a major focus of this year’s programme. I wanted to share just a few of the highlights, which demonstrate just how woven together the public engagement and civic engagement agendas are.


On Tuesday morning (December 1st) Steven Hill, Director of Research at Research England, will chair a discussion between Ottoline Leyser (Chief Executive, UKRI) and Dawn Austwick (Chief Executive, National Lottery Community Fund), exploring how their organisations are responding to the current crisis, the lessons they are learning, and the opportunities they see to strengthen the collaboration between researchers and society

Wednesday afternoon focuses on place. Vidhya Alakeson (Chief Executive, Power to Change) and Richard Jones (University of Manchester) will explore the rise of ‘place’ from two different perspectives: higher education and civil society, and will draw out the implications for the university sector.

Thursday morning’s plenary focuses on Responsible Research and Engagement, with a panel from inside and outside HEI reflecting on the need to reimagine research, innovation and engagement in light of COVID-19, Black Lives Matter and the Climate emergency. We will hear from people who have been working at the ‘front line’ of practice and scholarship to navigate the unprecedented challenges we face, and to deliver responsible research and engagement, including Richard Owen, Professor in Innovation Management at the University of Bristol and Radhika Bynon from Guy’s and St. Thomas’ Charity.


Threaded through the week are a number of workshops exploring cutting-edge engagement practice, and the lessons being learned. For instance, on Tuesday we will hear about work in Sheffield to protect the city’s cultural ecology; and University of Bristol’s peer support project to engage and enable families and improve neighbourhoods.

Wednesday includes sessions focused on the Being Human Festival’s work in Derby, Glasgow, Sheffield, and Swansea to develop new formats and working with collections, archives and civic partners; and a session led by the University of Manchester exploring the challenges, experiences and opportunities for communicating ‘live’ research in the midst of a pandemic, when so much is uncertain.

Thursday includes an update from UKRI on their People and Culture strategy; work in Thailand about how to mobilise knowledge among COVID-19 affected persons in northern Thailand; and Nina Ruddle from Wrexham Glyndwr University will share their approach to co-create their civic mission with partners and communities across North Wales, with the goal of ending social inequality across North Wales by 2030.

The conference closes on Friday with a workshop led by UCL sharing how UCL Engagement, together with their Equality, Diversion & Inclusion (EDI) team have developed a framework and started to put antiracist actions in place; and an update from the UKRI public engagement team on work in progress and future plans for place-focused engagement. The closing festival plenary on Friday afternoon will include highlights from the week, and take stock of the lessons learned and the implications for the months ahead.

Threaded across the week are lots of informal networking spaces (including virtual lunch queues for people keen to replicate the real life experience of a conference!).

A week’s pass (£120) gives you access to all these sessions – and many more. We offer a freelancer and charity discount and free places to individuals with involvement or an interest in engagement but no formal link to the higher education sector, so do please pass these details on to colleagues and partners. Sessions are filling up fast – you can view the programme a book your pass here.

The conference will also inform the Civic University Network’s national conference, which will be held in May 2021.

These are really tough times, and the pressures on our communities and on ourselves and our colleagues are immense. Events like this provide welcome ‘thinking time’, and a chance to connect with colleagues. We’d love to welcome you.

@NCCPE #Engage2020

click for conference information

Paul Manners, Director – Policy, NCCPE