Sheffield Hallam and its partners have been awarded £3.7m to support universities across the country to develop their civic leadership, maximising their local social and economic impact and helping to address national and global challenges.

The National Civic Impact Accelerator (NCIA) is an ambitious three-year programme to gather evidence and intelligence of what works, share civic innovations, and provide universities with the framework and tools to deliver meaningful, measurable civic strategies and activities.

The programme, funded by Research England, part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), will create collaboration and policy and practice innovation involving universities, local government and business groups, and the community sector to drive place-based transformations.

The NCIA will be led by Sheffield Hallam University in close partnership with the National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement (NCCPE), the Institute for Community Studies, West Midlands Regional Development Institute at the University of Birmingham, Queen Mary University of London, and the OECD. The programme is also backed by the wider resources and partners of the Civic University Network.

The intensive programme of work will involve:

  • Gathering evidence of effective practice to inform decision making and maximise the value of investments in civic activities
  • Developing an action learning cohort of universities to test and develop innovative practical and strategic tools to support civic performance.
  • Supporting the sector and its partners to put this into practice through intensive support and knowledge exchange activities.
  • Operationalising a Civic Impact Framework, using metrics to monitor, assess and accelerate civic strategies and the accountability of universities to their local communities.

Sheffield Hallam University was chosen to lead the programme in recognition of its role as a leader in the civic university movement. In 2020, it was chosen to host the UPP Foundation’s Civic University Network, a group of institutions working with government and strategic partners to ensure that the HE sector’s geographic role and responsibility is used more effectively as an agent to drive positive societal change.

The University’s Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research will lead the development and operationalisation of a Civic Impact Framework to provide the tools for universities to measure civic impact.

Richard Calvert, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Sheffield Hallam University, said: I am delighted that Sheffield Hallam and our partners have been awarded this funding to establish the National Civic Impact Accelerator.

“We know through our role in leading the Civic University Network that there is growing civic leadership across the sector, and a desire for more support and collaboration to help realise universities’ civic potential.

“Through this programme we aim to deliver impact beyond the sector through strengthened relationships, collaboration and greater alignment between universities and local ecosystems.”

Sheffield Hallam has appointed Professor John Goddard OBE, formerly Vice Chair of the Civic University Commission, as a visiting professor during the NCIA programme, in recognition of his contribution to the global civic university movement.

Professor Goddard said: “I am honoured to be invited to join Sheffield Hallam University as visiting professor and to be asked to play a key role in the academic leadership and governance of the NCIA project and to act as a bridge to the ongoing Civic University Network so ably run by my new colleagues.

“The launch of the NCIA comes at a critical time for local communities across the country as we face major global challenges. I believe NCIA can actively support universities play a key role in helping our communities address these challenges.”

Paul Manners, Co-Director of the National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement (NCCPE) said: “The National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement is delighted to be part of the NCIA. Since the early days of the Civic University Network, we have been determined to maximise the synergy between public, community and civic engagement. We look forward to working with the sector to raise our collective game in this vital area, by building the evidence base and to sharing and building on great examples of practice.”

Emily Morrison, Head of the Institute for Community Studies, said: “The Young Foundation’s Institute for Community Studies is delighted to be working with partners Sheffield Hallam and the NCCPE on the National Civic Impact Accelerator. This timely investment will support the many organisations working to support thriving civic partnerships and places within the UK, including universities, local government and the charity and community sector, at a point where better-quality evidence, knowledge mobilisation and learning, has never been more needed.”

Dr Philippa Lloyd, Vice Principal Policy and Strategic Partnerships at Queen Mary University of London and chair of the NCIA Advisory Board said: “We are delighted to be working with our partners on this ambitious project to enable universities to deliver impactful civic engagement initiatives. At Queen Mary, we were pleased to launch our Civic University Agreement earlier this year, and this programme will ensure we have a strong evidence base on which to build. We know how vital it is to collaborate with local partners and across the sector and are looking forward to contributing to this work.”

Professor Richard Black, Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Head of the College of Social Sciences at the University of Birmingham said: “The University welcomes the opportunity to build on its civic foundations as a partner in the National Civic Impact Accelerator. It’s a great opportunity to share across the wider university sector, the partnership research experience and expertise developed through WMREDI and CityREDI in the West Midlands. We look forward to utilising the innovative approaches developed to enhance our own civic agreement as a local anchor institution.”