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The Ideas Fund - new Funding for Public Engagement

24.12.20 By Beth-Louise Sturdee

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Greer Roberts Wellcome's Funding & Direct Activities Lead (Public Engagement) blog piece announcing the launch of The Ideas Fund

What a difference a year makes....

The Ideas Fund – this November the British Science Association is launching a new fund for public engagement with health research, funded by Wellcome. The Ideas Fund supports ideas that focus on mental health and will give £3.2 million in support over the next two years. It will help communities tackle the problems that matter to them by connecting them with researchers and providing support to make ideas happen.

Just over a year ago we decided to close the Public Engagement Fund. The writing had been on the wall for a while: we knew the Fund was ineffective and we became more and more uncomfortable that we were excluding voices as applicants had to find their way through a complex maze of funding from trusts and foundations to us. This had to change.

Over the last year, we’ve been supporting the British Science Association on their journey to support champions of community-led engagement. Our shared ambition to co-design a Fund with communities and by doing so, ensure that health research becomes more accessible to everybody.

It hasn’t all be easy though:

It’s been an incredible journey and we have learnt a lot through this process. We have seen how the BSA has managed tricky trade-offs and difficult decisions. Some of those that stand out to us are:

1. How to ensure the funding is inclusive by design, and not too complicated – and must deliver clear outcomes.

Public engagement with health research is often far away from how people think about and engage with health. It doesn’t help that Public Engagement can seem to come with a practice and language all of its own, which can at times make it seem quite difficult to get involved. TSIP, a socially driven organisation working with communities and the BSA led much of the early development of the Fund, working first from people’s needs and interests.

It has taken a lot of work to create a Fund that will be attractive enough for people to want to take a risk with their idea and to have a clarity of purpose so that people understand what the Funder is looking for. The Ideas Fund will also bring community members into deciding which ideas get funded.

2. How to make the greatest impact with a relatively modest amount of funding

Funding for Public Engagement in the UK is patchy and relatively low in financial terms.

The BSA, through The Ideas Fund, will now have £3.2 million to support projects over the next two years. This sounds like a high figure compared to most Public Engagement funding opportunities - and yet this is still a relatively low amount for creating real change. The Theory of Change created by BSA, TSIP and communities will help us understand better the barriers that are in the way of people trusting and using health research.

3. Depth or Breadth?

This has been one of the most challenging trade-offs. If we want new models of engagement to emerge, then we need to invest in the time it takes for relationships to be built. The Ideas Fund will focus on four geographic areas to be announced in January 2021.

Similarly, if we want the projects to stack up and have an impact, it makes sense to stick to one theme initially. The BSA will stick to the topic of mental health, one priority area of health today, and one of the three health challenges in Wellcome’s new strategy.

It is also our sense that by having a stronger focus on the social outcomes, as well as how it supports the research, should also open up opportunities for funding from other sources.

4. Trust

This has been a complex journey, whilst Wellcome is a seasoned Funder, if we genuinely want new community led approaches we have to let go and support those closer to people to do what they do best. We have learnt ways to be a supportive adviser, trusting in the design methodology and we hope striking the right balance between being a source of advice when needed and genuinely giving space for something new to emerge.

We’ve encouraged this Fund to retain flexibility to adapt and learn because who would have predicted this year would turn out the way it has. We know this Fund will produce some amazing ideas and insight.

We can’t wait to see what comes next on the journey, to find out more…..

The Ideas Fund will support ideas that focus on mental health. It will help communities tackle problems that matter to them by connecting them with researchers and providing support to make ideas happen. This may be to develop and try out a concept, or take an existing idea to the next level. The BSA is particularly keen to hear from people who may have been overlooked by such engagement in the past.

Fund information

· The Ideas Fund will initially run from 2021-23 and with £3.2 million.

· It will run in four locations in the UK, which will be announced in January 2021

· Full eligibility and guidance will be made available in January 2021.

· For more information, visit The Ideas Fund website or follow it on Facebook and Twitter

The original blog post can be viewed here:

Fresh thinkers wanted