C4. Tools, strategies and sustainability

C4. Tools, Strategies And Sustanability_softOnce the PE Action Plan is planned, the implementation phase starts up.

Identifying the actions to be promoted

An Action Plan includes different components, which largely vary according to the nature and objectives of the Action Plan. However, also the set of actions to be promoted may be extremely different. In fact, despite the presence of recurrent patterns, any PE strategy or plan is something unique, fully tailored on the features of the research organisation. However, some examples of action plans can be inspirational for understanding how to set up a PE strategy matching the needs of one’s own research organisation. According to the different specific aims pursued, many types of actions have also been tested in different research settings to be usefully replicated elsewhere.

The core of the implementation process: negotiations

The main tool to promote change is that of negotiation. In fact, any action promoted for embedding PE in the research institutions implies some sort of negotiation process with, e.g., top leaders, middle managers, internal and external stakeholders, researchers and students. Negotiation is an almost spontaneous day-by-day process. However, specific negotiation strategies can be also intentionally developed by the Team, in order to favour consensus-building, to manage and prevent conflicts, to identify new allies, or to anticipate consequences and reactions before and during implementation of the Action Plan. There are different dimensions of negotiation processes, which are particularly important to know and manage. Mostly, negotiations imply the use of PE engagement tools and approaches.

In the implementation process, it is also necessary for the PE Team to keep a flexible approach and to modify the established plans, tools and strategies according to emerging circumstances, most of which are linked to the negotiation processes. In this regards, some typical cases can be mentioned. It is to observe that flexibility implies for a Team to play a wide range of different roles

Tailoring the Action Plan

Action Plans may also vary according to their focus and approach. For example, especially in the US, there is an increasing interest towards the education of students to PE, with the spreading of the so-called academic service-learning. In other cases, the interest is focused on the engagement of the university departments, as promoted by the Engaged Departments Approach, or a more specific engagement with the local dimension, the so-called community engagement. In other cases, the focal point is on the research process, especially in terms of the knowledge co-creation involving community and research organisations. The UK National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement proposed a set of conceptual frames to take into consideration these different focal points. This is to say that each Action Plan may assume different features and be based on specific priorities according to the needs of the research organisation but also the interpretation given to PE by the leaders.

Ensuring long term sustainability

The concept of structural change refers to changes which deeply touch the structure, the culture and the behavioural patterns of the organisation. Only deep changes have the possibility to last after the Action Plan lifespan.

Long-term sustainability is therefore an important aspect of PE initiatives and strategies.

Actually, research organisations are changing environments. Many factors (of financial, political, organisational or social nature) may limit or impede the continuation of the actions and their evolution over time. This is also true when the Action Plan is fully supported both in organisational and financial terms by the research institution. It is always possible that, after a first phase, factors like a reduction in resources and investments or leadership turnover may jeopardise the embedment process of public engagement in the research organisation.

These risks can be at least partially prevented or managed through a Sustainability Plan to be developed all along the implementation of the Action Plan leveraging on specific components and steps.

In this context, also some indicators for measuring the level of PE within the institution can be also usefully applied in order to keep a control over the PE embedment process.

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