Making Space for Engagement – Glasgow’s new Advanced Research Centre

Dr Ken Skeldon is Research Engagement Manager at the University of Glasgow

the foyer of the ARC building, glas panels, open plan, and staircases

The University of Glasgow’s Advanced Research Centre, or ARC for short was officially opened on 8 June and will soon be fully operational, providing 16,000 square metres of new research infrastructure over 5 floors and a new home for over 500 researchers.

Interdisciplinarity and collaboration are at the heart of the ARC’s ambition, encouraging the mixing of expertise across the academic spectrum and with partners and communities from wider society.  One of the most striking aspects of the ARC is its entrance floor, open to the public and the entire University community and furbished with a suite of impressive multi-use spaces, including training rooms, event spaces, maker areas, a large atrium, an enterprise zone and an XR lab.  

Ideas for research first

The early decision to remove cost as a barrier to access the ARC’s engagement spaces is already having a positive impact – especially with postgraduate and early career researcher led activities or when building connections with local communities. However, it has also meant taking a considered approach to what happens in the ARC’s engagement spaces. To do this, we turned to the University’s 2020-2025 Research Strategy and its priority areas of Collaboration, Creativity and Careers. As the ARC is a huge enabler for research at Glasgow, it seemed natural to develop access criteria that map to these priorities, bringing in different aspects of good engagement practice as we go.

Making space for collaboration

Following from the above, we’ve prioritised three features of collaboration we want our research engagement to reflect. Firstly, we want to encourage working with partners outside the University, whether through community groups, industry, the third sector or indeed other research organisations. Fundamentally, this makes for better research by opening challenges up to the complementary expertise, resources and networks offered by different actors.  Secondly, we see an opportunity to encourage relationship building with groups currently underrepresented in research. This is important because for the impact of research to be maximised, the process needs to embrace the experiences and views of all parts of society, not just those privileged or with currency to engage. Thirdly, we want to see sustained collaboration beyond merely transactional relationships. Tangible outcomes will always be important, but so too is a culture of collaboration where exchange is based on trust and a mutual respect for different forms of expertise and experience. Part of this is to maintain connections with partners regularly, rather than determined by discrete project goals. 

Making time for creativity

In keeping with the interdisciplinary and collaborative ethos of the ARC, we want to amplify opportunities to bring different types of expertise together. This can be from different academic disciplines and/or other sectors and embeds a broad notion of expertise that includes the lived experiences, perspectives, and views of different people. Secondly, we want to inspire a sense of adventure in the ARC’s spaces, through novel methods, formats and approaches to engagement and where outcomes are not always predictable or guaranteed. Where things work well, and indeed where they don’t, we want to make available the learning to help and empower others.  Thirdly, we’re asking activity designers to consider what meaningful co-creation might look like in their creative engagement. By meaningful we mean that clear lines can be drawn from outputs or outcomes back to the contributions of the different partners involved. This can mean stepping back from fixed ways of approaching working with others and building more inclusive approaches for participation. 

Supporting pathways for careers

Here is where we find a big overlap between research engagement and researcher development, thinking especially of our postgraduate and early career researchers.  Again, we identified three aspects we believe engagement can enhance. Firstly, we think it is important to support skills journeys that go beyond training alone and are strengthened via practical experiences and opportunities. This benefits from a coordinated and close working link between development and engagement programmes, akin to the approach that underpinned Aberdeen’s RCUK Catalyst Project. It also means supporting researchers to take ownership of engagement activities themselves. Secondly, we will enthusiastically support activities aimed at expanding networks. We’re choosing to say networks rather than networking here, because the latter suggests an active process which for some can be uncomfortable or challenging. Instead, we will work with our early career communities to explore areas of interest and think about how we can best support platforms for making new contacts. Thirdly, we see the ARC’s spaces as a vehicle for activities supporting transferable and leadership skills of early career researchers. In this context, we’re primarily asking researchers to reflect how engagement practice can help build their portfolio as a research leader, rather than how they might develop particular leadership skills in engagement – an important distinction. 

What next?

With these nine criteria, we hope to have a foundation from which to build different uses of the ARC’s engagement spaces. We have a unique opportunity to learn from what happens next, because it is unusual in a university setting to have such wide oversight of an extraordinary array of activities in one place, all embracing different methods of engagement, topics, partners, and research teams. We can use this evolving grassroots activity base to identify synergies, connections and create added value for future research pursuits. Time will tell how significant the impact of the ARC engagement and events infrastructure will be, however from the 50 or so events we’ve already hosted in the spaces over the past 3 months, anecdotal feedback is already highly positive.

Come and see us in September! 

We’ve some exciting public programmes planned for later in the summer. We’re thrilled that from 12 – 18 September, the ARC will host this year’s Glasgow Doors Open Days Festival Hub – with a week-long programme of talks and exhibitions culminating in the ARC, including all the research floors, fully open to the public during the Doors Open Weekend of 17 and 18 September. This leads into the ARC’s own festival – ARCadia – which is happening from 16 – 30 September with a host of activities and events for all ages, spanning the sciences, arts and humanities. Regular news and updates are posted on ARC social media @UofGARC. 

To find out more information generally about the ARC and/or enquire over the use of the engagement spaces, please email ARCEngage@glasgow.ac.uk 

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