umbrella seen from below showing spokes and panels ranging from an orange through the spectrum to green
umbrella seen from below showing spokes and panels ranging from an orange through the spectrum to green

PCER Culture Change Fund


Scheme at a glance/key facts

Who it’s for – eligibility and suitability

You can apply if you are a member of staff who is a researcher or public engagement professional at the University of Oxford and be the ‘Principal Investigator’ (PI). The PI is accountable for the project and must represent and be employed in the department that the project is for. Co-applicants – people who will contribute to the project and support the PI – are welcome but not required, and can include any other member of the department, including graduate students, or from another department/faculty/division. Divisional staff are eligible to apply on behalf of or in support of a department.

A University cost centre is needed to host an award and funds must be managed through a Faculty or Department.

How much money is available and number of awards we aim to make

A total of £30,000 per year is available to support culture change projects. A project can request up to £15,000 per year for up to two years.

You will need to phase your budget carefully as any underspend from year 1 cannot be carried over to year 2. Because of the timings of the call, ‘year 1’ will only be 7 months (February to July), while ‘year 2’ will be 11 months (August to July).

We intend to fund just one culture change project each year. This year (2022/23), there may be scope to fund one or two shorter (less than one year) projects in the region of £10,000. However, we may choose to use any underspend to support more seed projects.

Duration of funding

Projects can be up to 18 months long:

  • Your project cannot start before February 2023
  • You will need to have spent all your award by 30 June 2024

Key dates

  • Application deadline: midday, 25 November 2022
  • Decisions announced: January 2022
  • Projects start: February 2023
  • Projects spending deadline: Friday, 28 June 2024
  • Projects submit a final report and evaluation forms: on or before Wednesday, 30 September 2024

About this scheme


The University’s public and community engagement with research (PCER) team takes a broad view of ‘public engagement’ as any activity that connects or involves non-academic audiences with our research. This could variously be described as engagement, outreach, participation, involvement, co-production and more. Public engagement encompasses a broad spectrum, often with similar methods and similar, albeit differently nuanced, goals to make research more transparent, available, and accessible for those who want to be involved or participate in different ways.

Many people have preconceptions about what public engagement is. Most simply, public engagement should be work that engages (occupies or attracts someone's interest or attention) the public (ordinary people in general; the community) with research. Thus, you can be creative in how you interpret ‘public’ and ‘engagement’. Don’t let the combination of those words and the baggage that can be associated with them put you off.

‘Good’ public engagement means different things to different people. However, it tends to involve meaningfully listening to and involving public audiences in a way that improves research. For some forms of research, it might even be unethical not to engage with the public, for example, particular medical research projects.

The nature of an engagement activity will depend on how close a research question is to affecting the public. Basic research in the physical and life sciences probably won’t lend itself to a citizen’s jury. Nonetheless, it can be important to explain it to the public, setting out the anticipated benefits and, maybe, hearing their thoughts. The process of explaining your work and discussing it with public audiences can help to sharpen your own thinking and rationale for your work. Further, engagement allows complicated ideas to be conveyed in a range of formats, reaching more diverse audiences, and creating space for discussion.

Virtually all research seeks to better understand the world such that we can improve it and our lives within it. To do so means that the learning from or outputs of research ultimately must be made available to and adopted by the public. They should therefore be involved in research that affects them. However, often, PCER is done as something extra (‘on the side’) by motivated researchers. We would like to see it more integrated into researchers’ work – part of the fabric of research culture. Research staff should not have to do public engagement as overtime or volunteering. For example, if someone spends a weekend staffing a stand at a festival, there efforts should be recognised – departmental leaders should say ‘thank you’ and they should be able to claim that time back as time off in lieu (TOIL), should they choose to.

We do not expect all researchers to go and do public engagement activities. We recognise that the combination of the subject matter, time pressure and skillsets might make engagement excessively challenging. However:

  1. There should be capacity within a division, department and group for someone – and, ideally, multiple people – to do high-quality public engagement with research, with dedicated support for engagement activity available if needed; and
  2. As set out above, public engagement can encompass a huge range of activities. If you wouldn’t enjoy or see the value in being on stage or standing behind a table at a festival, consider working with school leaders to support teacher professional development in your area, or contributing to a community group that has an issue connected to your research area.

Finally, culture change is hard. An organisation as large as the University of Oxford will have myriad cultures across and within divisions and departments. Some departments will be supportive of public and community engagement with research, others will be more circumspect. We would like research staff and research students, regardless of their department, to have similar opportunities to lead and be involved in PCER activities and have similar reward and recognition for when they do PCER. A culture change project will be relatively blunt in the actions that it can take. Ultimately, it is people’s behaviours that will form culture. Imagine a group head who says ‘thank you’ to their researchers who’ve spent the weekend doing public engagement activities at a festival and encourages them to leave a little earlier on Friday. This isn’t an activity you can create or budget for, yet it would be an indicator of a department with a good culture of public engagement.

What we’re looking for

We will support projects that do one or more of the following

  1. build research staff and/or research student capacity in PCER;
  2. contribute to ongoing departmental support for PCER;
  3. build, where appropriate, partnerships (informal or formal) with other departments, divisions, multidisciplinary teams and external professionals that will improve your department’s ability and capacity to do PCER.

This could be via a new programme of work, or it could enhance an existing departmental culture change project, including follow-on funding to a previously funded project.

You will need to complete an EDGE assessment as part of your application. This is an easy-to-use tool was created by the National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement to help HEIs assess their public engagement culture. It that looks at how public engagement with research is considered in terms of an organisation’s (whether university or department) purpose, processes and people.

    1. Purpose
      1. Mission – how is PCER reflected in your department’s mission?
      2. Leadership – is PCER championed?
      3. Communication – does your department talk about PCER?
    2. Process
      1. Support – how is PCER supported?
      2. Learning – what scope is there for professional development in PCER?
      3. Recognition – does PCER form part of your department’s reward and recognition criteria?
    3. People
      1. Staff – can all staff be involved?
      2. Research students – what roles are there for students in PCER?
      3. Public – how to the public contribute to your work?

Having done this assessment to identify your department’s strengths and weaknesses in PCER, think about how you can address the weaknesses and build on the strengths. You might like to consider using a logic model or theory of change for this. A detailed course on creating logic models is available from the University of Wisconsin-Madison; simpler guides are also available (these guides are often oriented around a specific context, such as healthcare or education, but the principles and processes should be straightforward to apply for your setting).

The EDGE tool is focused on identifying whether public engagement happens and is supported. However, simply doing public engagement should never be the goal in itself – the engagement should always have a purpose (this is broadly reflected in the ‘mission’ dimension of EDGE). One cultural aspect of engagement is to ensure that it is purposeful and clear as to the differences that it aims to make, whether those differences are driven by departmental aims, team ambitions, or global targets (e.g., the Sustainable Development Goals).

Possible activities

The activities that you choose should enable you to achieve the changes you need to address the relative weaknesses discovered in your EDGE analysis. Culture change projects do not need to be public facing; the audience can be solely your research staff and/or students.

The example activities here are associated with different dimensions of the EDGE tool:

  • Mission: Use a design-led approach to refresh your department’s PCER strategy and, if possible, its overall strategy to ensure that your approach to PCER is appropriate.
  • Leadership: Support professional development of key individuals in PCER, either through training or secondments into PCER roles.
  • Communication: Create assets (posters, videos) that will be visible for members of your department, highlight the opportunities for PCER .
  • Support: Create an oversight/steering group for PCER drawing from PCER champions in your department and, maybe, elsewhere in the University.
  • Learning: Develop a suite of resources to enable your colleagues to find out more about PCER, this could include training videos, budget to attend training courses, etc.
  • Recognition: Create means to formally recognise and reward PCER, for example through certificating good PCER projects, an annual awards ceremony, or include doing PCER within your department’s reward and recognition structures.
  • Staff: Provide opportunities for all staff to be involved, for example by attending a relevant festival.
  • Students: Potentially like activities you might do with staff but being mindful of students’ experience and the additional/different support that they might need to contribute. Students might also have different motivations to staff for wanting to be involved, so you should check that your offer meets these expectations.
  • Public: Identify routes for the public to contribute to your work; this could be at the strategic level or project level – consider convening a public advisory group with a clear Terms of Reference. If working/collaborating with the public, you must consider what they get in return – you should not ask them to do work for you for free.

Other activities that could generally support your department’s PCER culture and that could be considered as part of a wider portfolio of work (as constructed in a logic model) might include:

  1. Developing and delivering PCER activities, events and resources for staff to participate in
  2. PCER seminar series
  3. Provision of PCER seed funding

Whatever you do should continue to have an impact after the funding period has finished. You should create resources, infrastructure and ways of working which mean that PCER is embedded, supported, recognised and rewarded within your department.

Your proposal

What you should do

  1. Identify what you think you need to address to improve public engagement in your department. While you will need to complete the EDGE analysis and this should give valuable insights, it’s possible other factors, not captured in the EDGE analysis, should be prioritised.
  2. Construct a theory of change or logic model that describes the differences you need to make to change your department’s culture of public engagement and sets out the activities you’ll need to do to make these differences.
  3. Liaise with your main stakeholders – research staff and students, academics, PER facilitators and, where possible and appropriate, the public
  4. Building on your theory of change/logic model, identify the key metrics you can measure and create an evaluation framework so that you’ll know whether your project has been successful.
  5. Think about how your project will embed change – how might it continue to make an impact and contribute to other areas once the funding is finished?
  6. Carefully plan your project and budget. The budget is particularly important. The culture change fund is made possible thanks to the Higher Education Innovation Funding (HEIF) from Research England. HEIF’s strict annual budgets mean that we cannot move money from one financial year to another. If you underspend in year one, the money cannot be moved to year two. The University’s financial year (FY) runs from 1 August to 31 July each year and you should try to pay for activities by mid-July to ensure they are accounted for in that FY. For example: you plan a project with a total budget of £26,000; £12,000 is allocated for year one and the remaining £14,000 allocated to year two. In year one, you spend £9,000 – £3,000 under your budget. Whatever activities you intended to do with that money either (a) won’t be able to happen, or (b) will need to be paid for out of your year two project, or (c) a combination of (a) and (b). Your total project budget is now £23,000. We will work with successful projects to support their planning and activity, helping to keep budgets on track.

What you shouldn’t do (what we won’t fund)

Projects that are primarily focused on public audiences should be supported by other sources of funding. Relatively small projects can apply to the PCER Seed Fund; larger projects should look for external sources or discuss their plans with the PCER team.

How we will assess your proposal

We will consider:

  1. The context of public engagement with research in your department – how weakly embedded is PCER and what scope there is to improve it?
  2. The ambition and legacy of your project – will your project lead to a significant and embedded change in your department’s support of PCER and will its assets have a life beyond the end of the project?
  3. Who’s involved – are senior leaders on board to help effect change from the top? If they are not, will your project mobilise more junior researchers and research students to participate in PCER activities in a way that does not rely on overtime and volunteering?
  4. The learning you will generate – as we seek to support culture change across the university, we want to know what works. Is reward and recognition more important than communication or support, for example?
  5. Value for money – how many people will benefit from your work and will it continue to make a difference after the funding has stopped?

How to apply

  1. Download and complete the Case for support template and the EDGE analysis tool
  2. Combine and save the two documents as one PDF.
  3. Use the University’s Internal Research Award Management System (IRAMS) to complete the online application form by
    1. completing the project details section;
    2. giving a financial breakdown:
      1. you must describe the costs being requested in the ‘description’ field for each budget line with a justification, if appropriate;
      2. more lines will become available once the purpose for three of them has been filled in;
    3. uploading the PDF version of your completed case for support and EDGE analysis.

Your application will be automatically submitted to your Department or Faculty. Subject to departmental approval, it will be reviewed by an internal panel of Oxford researchers and academics, and public engagement professionals, who will make the funding recommendations.

Application Support

Enquiries to the central PCER team are welcome at any time. Applicants may seek support from the Divisional public engagement leads and/or departmental public engagement staff.

PCER contact details

For logistical support submitting your application, please contact the PCER team.

To discuss how to evaluate your project, please contact Rowena Fletcher-Wood.

To discuss your project idea, please contact [email protected] or your divisional PER lead (see below).

You could also speak to members of

Divisional PCER lead contact details

Gardens Libraries and Museums

Head of Research and Impact Management – Harriet Warburton

Humanities Division

TORCH | The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities, Head of Cultural Programming and Partnerships – Victoria McGuinness

Mathematical, Physical and Life Sciences Division

Head of Public and Community Engagement with Research – Michaela Livingstone-Banks

Medical Sciences Division

Public and Policy Engagement Coordinator – Martin Christlieb

Social Sciences Division

Head of Engagement – Aileen Marshall-Brown

Awarded Projects: PER Culture Change Fund 2021-22

MRC Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine (WIMM): Dr Catherine Seed

Engaged Researcher Programme

This project aims to further develop our culture of Public Engagement with Research within the MRC Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine with a year-long ‘Engaged Researcher’ Programme of talks and workshops. Our monthly sessions will be tailored to developing key knowledge across storytelling and performance skills, two-way engagement with communities and patients, and inclusive engagement. Through these workshops we hope to; create a community of practice in PER across our research groups, to further support our researchers in developing their own engagement practice, and to link to a wider network of engagement practitioners and community organisations. 

Department of Sociology: Agnieszka Swiejkowska and Dr Sam Harper

Sociology Youth Advisory Board - pilot

The Department of Sociology’s ‘Youth Advisory Board’ (YAB) pilot is a vehicle for researchers to engage with year 12 A level students in PER, outreach, and knowledge exchange activities. The YAB is composed of 50 students from 4 schools from the Swindon and South Gloucestershire areas which are characterised by low per capita education-spend and under average quality higher education placements.

Through in-person and online workshops, ‘Ask an Expert’ sessions and newsletters, students will learn about the department, and its research, and engage with individual projects. The YAB benefits researchers by giving them PER experience, and possibly also knowledge exchange / user group opportunities. If the pilot is successful, the ambition is that the YAB will become financially self-funding as it can be priced into funding applications, thereby ensuring that PER activities are embedded in the design of research projects.

Members of the YAB will learn how research is funded and how it helps address real-world challenges. At the end of their relationship with the department, students will receive references from the PIs they have worked with and certificates signed by the Research Director of the Sociology department and experience on their CVs that will help them gain a place in the Higher Education Institution of their choice.

Department of Physics: Professor Alan Barr, Dr Tristan Farrow, Dr Sian Tedaldi and Professor Chris Lintott

Collaborative Engagement Network in Physics

The Department of Physics will embed collaborative engagement practices across the Department through the launch of the Collaborative Engagement Network in Physics (CENiP). CENiP will be a coordinated approach to PER which supports and facilitates public engagement with research (PER) that enables public groups and researchers to collaborate. The launch of CENiP will capitalise on three pilot projects which involve school students carrying out real research across three different research themes: astrophysics, particle physics and quantum physics. These projects will be used to develop and test educational tools and methodologies to demonstrate to researchers across the Department the diverse ways they can support young people to do real research. CENiPwill act as an incubator for new collaborative PER projects, supporting researchers to develop and pilot ideas with robust evaluations. It will include facilitated network activities as well as the development of a CENiP toolkit and evaluation framework to help build capacity for future projects. The launch will include an inaugural CENiP conference, which will become an annual departmental event to raise the profile of collaborative PER projects in the Department and showcase the research outputs and benefits of CENiP.

Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics: Louise Cotterell

DPAG Outreach and Public Engagement Working Group Multi-Disciplinary PER: Around the body in 5 steps

Who you gonna call? Myth-busters! - IF Festival 2022

Have you been told that we only use 10% of our brains? Or that carrots improve eyesight? Join scientists from the Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics to debunk old wives’ tales and misconceptions about our amazing body. Discover why they are wrong, and why they were embraced as scientific fact in the first place.

This PER activity will be led by DPAG’s Outreach and Public Engagement Working Group (OPEWG) and will take place at the IF Festival 2022. Staff and students will take on roles representing 5 different organs or systems of the body (eg. heart, brain, gut) that align with research areas in DPAG. They will share interesting facts about the organ or system, myth-busters, and current research with members of public on the day. Visitors will be provided with an artist-designed body colouring booklet, and those that visit all five of the organs/systems will be eligible to enter a prize-draw to win a book token.


DPAG staff and students will be invited to self-nominate, or be nominated, for a personal award to recognise their achievements in public engagement initiatives over the previous 12 months.