Centre for Ecology & Hydrology EmbER (EMBedding public Enagement with Research)

Lead Research Organisation: NERC Centre for Ecology and Hydrology
Department Name: Directors and Science Coordinators


The Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) is a Research Council Institute (RCI) and the UK's Centre of Excellence for integrated research in terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems. It has nearly 600 staff and students situation in 4 sites across the UK. CEH is one of the c.30 RCIs that are important in the Research Council (RC) funding landscape. RCIs receive 20% of the total RC research budget and employ over 1/4 of the RC-funded staff in the UK. RCIs face many similar challenges to universities in supporting public engagement with research (PER), but they tend to be more specialised and less geographically-embedded than Universities, providing different challenges. Up until now they have been excluded from RCUK support to embed PER in their culture.
Now is the time to invest in cultural change for PER in CEH. CEH is currently undergoing major institutional changes in governance, core funding and enhanced opportunities to undertake research overseas. Therefore supporting a PER culture within CEH at this time will elicit long-term changes in institutional support. Staff at CEH already undertake a wide range of PER from public events, festivals and lectures, working with young people and schools and online engagement, through to public stakeholder engagement and citizen science (of which CEH has internationally-valued expertise). CEH's science is of interest and of relevance to the public: demonstrated by CEH's wide reach through the media, and recent surveys of science communication showing the relevance of environmental research to people. However, our self-assessment of support for PER in CEH revealed challenges. In particular the purpose of PER has not been clearly elucidated: we need to know what PER means to CEH, and its value to researchers, to the institution and to our science, so that long-term resourcing of support for PER can be justified and prioritised. In addition, CEH will also act as an exemplar for other RCIs in embedding PER, and so share its experience with the National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement.
Our primary aim is to support greater understanding of the purpose of PER for CEH, through collaboratively (with researchers and senior managers) developing a strategy showing the importance of PER to CEH's mission and its staff, including a detailed proposal for the instigation of a PER sub-committee. This will also be informed by a 'state of play' review. However culture change for PER needs to be bottom-up as well as top-down and so we will have a range of 'quick win' activities allowing us to inspire and support staff in their PER. We will launch the project with an internal symposium so that engaged researchers can highlight the diversity of the excellent PER currently ongoing. We will fund 8 projects for researchers to engage with people through our seed fund, with funding given to researchers who demonstrate excellence, innovation and fit to CEH's science strategy, and we will develop a reporting tool so that the richness of PER can be documented internally and to external partners (e.g. NERC). Our implementation of both the seed fund and the reporting tool will demand excellence in identifying the purpose of researchers' engagement and in evaluation. We will also publically recognise (and hence value) engaged researchers through regular internal communications. All our activity will be underpinned by formative evaluation, supported by the National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement, and we will share our experience with other RCIs at the end of the project.
We seek to achieve much in this one year project (funded by RCUK and supported by internal matched funding), but importantly we will also have identified gaps, which will enable CEH to prioritise effective and cost-efficient actions for long-term culture change in the organisation. This project will be one crucial step forward in the sustainable and strategic support for PER in our institution.

Planned Impact

This project is to 'enrich the institutional public engagement with research (PER) support culture' in the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH).

In the long-term a wide range of publics will benefit from this project through CEH staff being supported in undertaking excellent PER activities by CEH staff - which will have their own impact. To achieve this we will develop a strategic understanding of the value and purpose of PER in CEH to justify its support and establish a sub-committee representing PER to the CEH Executive Board so reporting and providing challenge.

Public audiences will directly benefit from this project. We will use <15% of the SEE-PER funding for 8 pilot PER activities via open competition by CEH staff. Although we cannot yet know the activities that will be undertaken, they will be effective PER in their own right and will be evaluated for their impact. They will also be strategically important in this SEE-PER funded project, so raising the profile of PER in CEH.

PER enablers in other institutions will benefit from this project, in particular staff from Research Council Institutes (RCIs). We will host a workshop for PER staff from related RCIs (support staff and engaged senior researchers). The aim of this workshop will be share experience, including our experience of strategic support for PER in this project and to begin networks of support and sharing experience.


10 25 50
Description Following review of CEH's current approach and delivery of Public Engagement with Research (PER), a revised approach has been drafted in a series of PER Principles & Responsibilities. This is intended to address a key objective of the award, i.e. integrating PER with our mission and strategy. The end of year 1 Report provided to the UKRI leads also identified two other successes: Increasing grass roots understanding of and participation in PER across the organisation and Increasing ongoing support for and prioritisation of PER among senior managers.
Exploitation Route The PER Principles & Responsibilities will be presented to NERC Institutes, not least as CEH was the first research centre to receive an award focussing on the strategic development of PER. A Final Report has been provided to the coordinating body NCCPE (December 2019) and shared with other SEE-PER participants. Publication of the Report is envisaged in 2020. Results presented to NERC Centres 'Heads of Communications'.
Sectors Environment

URL https://www.ceh.ac.uk/public-engagement
Description Public Engagement with Research seed finding has facilitated 6 pilot activities. To give one example, ecologists from CEH used such seed funding to develop "CEHCraft" which took the popular computer game Minecraft and integrated it with CEH data science, drawing on our Land Cover Map and Land Cover Map; Plus Crops. The money allowed the researchers to create an initial prototype of the game to show to the EmbER team, senior science managers and potential partners. This game later went on to be showcased at two large-scale events during 2017, to demonstrate specific aspects of land-use change, and continues to be scaled as a resource for public dialogue around the agricultural use of land.
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment
Impact Types Societal,Policy & public services

Description CEHCraft 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The CEHCraft project used the seed funding to develop relationships with partners - for example, to meet with the Science Hunters team to discuss opportunities for collaboration in engaging children with environmental topics using Minecraft.

CEH Craft, a virtual reality experience, represents the farmed landscape as it is now and how it might change in the future - including the habitats, crops, animals and buildings in VR. Scientists at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) have been able to create these landscape scenarios using statistical models based on CEH's crop maps and land cover maps, which use satellite images and digital cartography to provide land cover information for the entire UK.

Guided by a team from CEH, visitors at various events, via VR headsets, were able to view these virtual reality landscapes. Screens will display a live feed of the users' actions in the world of Minecraft - which is essentially virtual LEGO - thereby enabling wider audience participation and interaction.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://www.ceh.ac.uk/news-and-media/news/immersive-virtual-reality-landscapes-show-cereals-2018