Public and community engagement

The outcomes of effective engagement can be profound - transforming lives and communities locally, nationally and internationally.

External engagement is central in Keele’s Strategic Plan and Mission, embedded in education and research and not a third, separate activity. Keele’s leadership structures ensure that learning is captured and acted on, and that excellent public engagement practice is recognised and rewarded as a mainstream activity.Our professional services team delivers transformative strategic platforms to provide new opportunities for academic impact.

Over the last decade Keele has gained a strong reputation for innovation in community co-production. Through our Community Animation and Social Innovation Centre (CASIC) we have, with our partners, nurtured a diverse and skilled community of practice in public community engagement.

Engagement and collaboration is central in Keele’s Strategic Plan and Mission, embedded in our education and research and not seen as a third separate activity.  Keele’s Knowledge Exchange Strategy 2016-20 identified four institutionally significant areas of focus for development:

The Strategy also included the scaling up of student skill-building around engagement, through an integrated programme of placements and projects, along with related work-based learning and professional education, enriching Keele’s engaged research through increased professional relationships.

Our approach to public engagement developed very quickly from that point. In 2016 we adopted the National Co-ordinating Centre’s manifesto for public engagement, signalling an intention to move beyond individual centres of excellence and wholeheartedly embrace public engagement.

Since 2017 the University has developed, through co-production, a number of focused ‘Deals’, developed collaboratively to identify needs and deliver regional impacts. A Keele Deal for post-Covid-19 recovery will be launched in 2020 and a Keele Deal | Inclusion in 2021, building on the range of contributions to address the impacts of the pandemic.

Scope of Keele Deal | Recovery 2020

Keele Deal | Recovery thematic coverage

Since 2018, Keele’s strategy has been shaped by three interdisciplinary institutes for Sustainable Futures and Social Inclusion, Global Health, along with School-based research in Primary Care, Pharmacy and Bioengineering.

Between 2017 and 2019 Keele undertook a major institutional development project to embed public engagement, with a focus on co-production, supported by UKRI funding. Its starting point was feedback from community partners in a powerful (and at times salutary) listening exercise, as part of a programme institutional self-assessment.

A dedicated PER Steering Group was put in place, chaired by the Pro Vice-Chancellor for Research and Enterprise and comprising of community partners and Faculty Public Engagement Champions.

This institutional development drive has enabled Keele to move forward in many aspects of support for Engagement.

EDGE tool self-assessment

Academic leadership and peer learning

For many years CASIC has been at the centre of a vibrant and growing community of researchers practising methods of community co-production in diverse disciplines.  CASIC has made a huge contribution to academic insights and skills in this area, building an institution-wide community of engaged researchers. Now embedded in the Keele Institute for Social Inclusion, CASIC will shortly be relaunched as the Community-Centred Collaborative Methodologies Network (C3M).

All three Interdisciplinary Research Institutes set up since 2017 have been established as collaborative entities, with external membership from the outset to provide a setting for diverse knowledge mobilisation.

Keele’s expertise in co-production is also playing a strong role in the environment for research in the Global South, with academic leads experienced in co-production. Creative methods form part of large projects such as Eclipse and MADAR.

Professional Services support

A new approach to professional services support for engagement was introduced in 2015 with the creation of the Directorate of Engagement and Partnerships. Three Heads of Partnership Development work alongside academic leaders to shape and deliver major externally funded strategic projects, enabling 14 new non-academic KE staff to be employed in 2016/17, their success in turn enabled the recruitment of further KE staff to support broader public engagement in Faculties.

In 2017 we relocated Keele’s Public Arts Team into the Directorate to strengthen their role in creative public engagement with research.

In Medicine and Health Sciences Impact Accelerator Unit supports two-way knowledge mobilisation, enabling stakeholders to work together to increase research-informed healthcare and health care-informed research. This includes facilitating lay involvement, an area Keele has recognised strengths in nationally, which also promotes strong public and patient engagement in Keele’s support for clinical trials.

Strategic Research Development

New forms of professional support have been put in place to engage external partners at an early stage in strategic research development (working with our partner Know Innovation)  Earlier this year this was used to develop the research agenda for Keele Deal | Inclusion. and in November we will be supporting Keele’s new collaborative Food Security Network.

Co-production Workshop ‘visual harvesting’ for Keele Deal | Inclusion

Co-production Workshop ‘visual harvesting’ for Keele Deal | Inclusion

Collaborative research development is also seeded by the Institutes, KISI’s Active Partnership Programme, which starts with externally generated challenges rather than academic ideas.

Reward and recognition

In 2018/19 we introduced engagement into all academic role expectations, enabling engagement to form part of workload allocations at School level. This was followed by inclusion in revised promotions criteria.  In 2019 Keele Excellence Awards embraced an award for Public Engagement with Research.

Training and development

An annual Engagement and Impact festival provides the main focus for professional development Keele’s Institute for Liberal Arts and Sciences features Grand Challenge lectures from high profile speakers in this area. Other resources are curated on Keele’s research support pages.

Engagement features within the core training of the Keele Doctoral Academy, and is available through all Doctoral Training Partnerships. Civic and social learning also features among the Keele Institute for Innovation and Teaching Excellence’s priority themes.

Festivals and Public Art

Keele’s revised Cultural Strategy and subsequent Keele Deal launched the idea of an annual festival of public engagement, UKRI funding enabling the launch of ‘Stoking Curiosity’ in 2018, providing opportunities for academic colleagues and community groups with knowledge to share.


KPAC’s engagement takes the form of co-produced applied research and collaborative evaluation. Over the last three years, collaborations have included work around Street Doctors and knife crime, driver safety, procedural justice, crowds policing, emergency call handling, multi-agency collaboration, policing and mental health, change management, safeguarding and civil contingencies. 

Building on Keele’s tradition of developing co-production methodologies the Police Knowledge Fund project enabled three ‘proof of concept’ projects to develop and test effective mechanisms for knowledge exchange. Completed in 2017/18, this was followed by the development of a model of collaborative working with external partners which has been used as a framework to improve evidence-based practice.


CLOCK has assisted 1,473 local litigants over the past 3 years, and formalised its methods of co-production enabling roll-out across the country.  Over the last three years this has been adopted by a further 12 Law Schools in eight partnerships in England, enabling thetraining more than 500 Community Legal Companions.

Courts operating with CLOCK Legal Companion support

Courts operating with CLOCK Legal Companion support

CASIC and Creative Engagement

Since 2014, CASIC has led 18,773 engagements with community members through 778 workshops. Its methodology has been used to co-produce practice-centred solutions in areas such as volunteering, food futures, health, sustainability and post-disaster reconstruction in community and business settings in the UK, Canada, Japan, Greece, France and the Philippines. CASIC facilitated a Food Charter for Stoke on Trent new local Food Festivals, which over the period of the strategy have engaged over 3,000 community members.
Keele’s research-based engagement around late life creativity also continued to flourish with attendance at the Annual Live-Age Festival in Partnership with the New Vic Theatre and Age UK reaching over 3,537 participants in its first five years (2014-19).

Stoking Curiosity, the knowledge festival co-produced with community partners took place for the first time in 2018, animating SpodeWorks with 43 imaginative and interactive activities activities enjoyed by 300 attendees. In 2019 there were 98 events/activities with over 700 visitors. Highlights from 2018 include an interactive exhibit on state-of-the-art prosthetics from our bioengineering, researchers exploring possibilities of plastic recycling through interactive learning and tactile play and Keele’s Emergency Poet.

ArtsKeele’s recent projects to support research include work with academics on ageing, migration, male mental health, international development, public health and rare diseases.

Older women rock

Public and Patient Engagement

Public and Patient Engagement in Healthcare and Medicine.Between 2017 and 2020, Keele’s Public and Patient Involvement and Engagement Unit has enabled the patient voice to be heard in 402 research studies across the West Midlands. Our Research User Group (RUG) grew its membership during the period from 117 to 165.  

This month Keele launches the Insight | Public Involvement project, funded by the West Midlands Clinical Research Network.  The project will co-produce and test a new quality awards programme for public involvement in medical research (e.g. the NHS & universities). The multi-partner project includes the independent group Expert Citizens.

Student Engagement

Keele’s Research and Innovation Support Programme, has supported student involvement in over 300 projects over the last three years. Additional funding has recently enabled virtual projects with voluntary sector partners.  Building on this the Keele Institute for Innovation and Teaching Excellence (KIITE) has secured significant funding from the Office for Students and Research England to develop innovative approaches to student-led knowledge exchange.

One of the more active areas of public engagement is the research on exoplanets from our Astrophysics group has been shared via our Stardome, a prize-winning portable planetarium, which has reached out to around 5000 school children per year for over a decade, resulting in some powerful accolades: ‘It was awesome, I love science’.

Our involvement in SEE-PER and with NCCPE means that training in evaluation is a crucial component of our public engagement offer. All major public engagement at Keele is formally evaluated, the PER Steering Group taking responsibility for understanding evaluations and acting on findings.  ‘Stoking Curiosity’ provides one example, with changes arising from this on activities and audiences.

CLOCK fully established a pioneering online platform to capture all aspects of its operation – the nature and scale of demand from litigants, their insights and experience, partner involvement, judicial outcomes and data. The online platform has enabled a swift response to new issues emerging during the pandemic, and analysis relating to CLOCK’s objectives.

KPAC sustains an ongoing dialogue with its partners, and specific projects, many of which are UKRI-funded include their own learning and evaluation to support impact. The Police Knowledge Framework for effective knowledge exchange has specific objectives around the uptake of evidence-based practice at all levels, requiring specific techniques for evaluation with frontline staff.

CASIC has played a critical role in the development of North Staffordshire’s sustainable food communities, catalysing a ‘network of networks’ and supporting the area’s efforts to become a Sustainable Food Place.

Sustainable food city

CASIC’s methods learn from the expertise of communities, build mutual understanding with policymakers and then support them in moving forward. The difference CASIC makes is expressed in feedback in terms of transforming relationships, empowering communities and providing hope.

In addition to its influences on clinical practice by providing a patient voice, Keele’s Public and Patient involvement activities have also had a transformative impact on individuals and patient communities. This has endowed many with confidence, a sense of personal value and a voice.

Evaluation of the Live-Age festival led to the creation of the Ages and Stages theatre company, which has now delivered performances at the Royal Exchange, West Yorkshire Playhouse and  Latitude Festival.

Evaluation demonstrates its role in:

  • enabling older people to access creative activities for the first time.
  • influenced creative practice, and
  • enhancing quality of life and self-esteem. 

Student Knowledge Exchange projects also include structured feedback at intervals and project close. Some stories of impact are highlighted here.

The PER Steering Group works with other university platforms such as our Research Leaders Network and our GCRF Steering Group to act on results.  Our Keele Deals are also key developmental platforms for refining our strategic approach - especially important as we engage with partners over Keele Deals in Recovery and Social Inclusion.

Whilst Keele can demonstrate widespread good practice around evaluation, learning and the use of what flows from it, we recognise that there is scope for improvement on the visibility of this work.