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Kayleigh Renberg-Fawcett

23 August 2022, 2:02 UTC Share

Building UPEN’s vision for a sustainable academic-policy engagement ecosystem

During my first month as Vice-Chair, which has been spent listening and reflecting with UPEN members, I feel very grateful and hugely excited to have been voted in with a remit of exploring UPEN’s transition to a ‘national centre’ as laid out in the Sealey Report. What this means to me is that I’ll be working with you (UPEN members) to look at what systems (eg structures, stakeholders) we need to support sustainable and inclusive academic-policy engagement and to better understand UPEN’s position in this.

I am hugely passionate about UPEN’s strengths and uniqueness, which I see in its geographical reach and institutional variation (with more than 100 universities from across all four nations of the UK as members [1]), its ability to convene and share learning across universities who are building knowledge mobilisation systems, and that it helps policy partners to more openly communicate and disseminate policy opportunities in one place. When this is all put together it means that UPEN is already valued as a key network in the academic-policy engagement ecosystem. I’m looking forward to seeing how we connect in with other parts of that system and how we ensure UPEN is at the heart of the big picture.

Vision for the role

The ‘why’

The spotlight is firmly on the academic-policy engagement space, and more and more stakeholders in the system are seeking to explore what a sustainable, joined-up system should look like – and UPEN needs to be at the heart of those conversations.

At the same time, UPEN is going through a transition.

Over the next 12 months, UPEN will be transitioning to a new phase as identified in the Sealey report and will be being led by a new Chair expecting to join us in January 2023 for 2-4 years. The first year of the UPEN VC role is about developing a collective understanding of what we as UPEN members identify as the collective key challenges and therefore needs in the space, to help frame our meaning and understanding of what is meant by a ‘national centre’. It also means developing relationships with a broad range of stakeholders that may be key to a ‘national centre’ – whether this be to learn from them, partner with, or seek support from in the future.

The ‘what’

I aim to do this by:

  • Taking sounds from across the institutionally and geographically diverse range of UPEN members to understand key needs and gaps in support, and what role a transition to a ‘national centre’ might play in this.
  • Meeting with key external stakeholders in UPEN-relevant local, regional, devolved and international contexts to deepen insight around existing models, new thinking, related developments and shared learning (e.g. funders, policy partners, charities etc).
  • Representing members interest to ensure they are at the heart of any ‘national centre’ related opportunities and processes
  • Continue to be an active member of the Futures, EDI and International sub-committees and working closely with the other VCs.

The ‘how’

By July 2023, I plan to have:

  • Identified key needs and gaps in current infrastructure to inform the development of a national centre through focused workshops over the next 12 months, drop-in sessions, and one-on-one meetings.
  • Identified and developed links with key stakeholders for UPEN to enhance our understanding of the current ecosystem as well as develop thoughts for what an improved ecosystem should look like.
  • Consult with members to develop a context paper to support a vision and mission statement for the progression of a national coordinating centre/academic-policy ecosystem, that can support the future Chair and next UPEN Vice-Chair on a national centre.
  • A suggested plan of action for the next UPEN Vice-Chair to take forward (July 23-24) on this remit.

I am committed to keeping UPEN members engaged and informed through:

  • Setting up a regular drop-in session (bi-monthly) and being contactable via email, for members to reach out to share reflections, concerns or suggestions.
  • The provision of written summaries, and presenting where necessary, updates to the UPEN Exec Committee meeting or UPEN members meeting.
  • Having accessible all meeting notes and write ups in the UPEN VC folder where possible.
  • Inviting UPEN members to join meetings



I believe passionately in the diversity of UPEN’s members (geography, institution type, career levels, job titles etc) and its mission to making academic-policy engagement more inclusive and accessible to all. I plan to keep this at the heart of all discussions. In this context specifically, I’m keen to understand what the best ways are to learn from, share and collaborate across the devolved regions and their contexts.

Openness & transparency

I welcome and encourage all members to share reflections, suggestions, concerns etc in relation to this remit and I ensure that there is a safe space to do this. I aim to be transparent, with members being able to access and view summary notes from meetings and discussions, where possible, on the google sharepoint.

I wish to be open and share with you that this is a professional development opportunity for me to help build on my practical experience of delivering academic-policy engagement activity, to allow me to develop more strategic thinking and put into practice an inclusive leadership approach. As such, I welcome feedback from colleagues at any point during this role.


Whilst there are many pockets of activity already taking shape across the UK to support academic-policy engagement, I believe that it has the potential to be greater than the sum of our parts when we seek to work collaboratively – whether this be to sign post, learn from or partner with. It’s with this mindset that I will explore how to create more sustainable infrastructure for academic-policy engagement in the UK.


My background

Before joining the world of academic-policy engagement, I studied Chinese and International Relations and was working more generally in policy engagement in China (through the British Council and through my own company that I set up to develop football links between China and the UK). During my business years, I was also supporting the University of Nottingham with the policy impact of research from across its three campuses in the UK, China and Malaysia, as well as in the Universities’ Public Affairs Unit. I joined UPEN as a network manager (or secretariat, back then) when the Chair moved to the University of Nottingham in 2019. I was fascinated that no such ‘system’ had existed before UPEN to help support and connect research and researchers with relevant policy stakeholders, and worked hard to build up the UPEN membership, identify policy partners (primarily in Whitehall and Westminster) and create the weekly updates. This meant a lot of my time was spent talking with people to say, yes, it’s okay for you to share and communicate what your evidence needs are! After 18 fantastic months with UPEN, I then joined the Research England funded project, Capabilities in Academic Policy Engagement (CAPE) in April 2021 which is aiming to test what works (and doesn’t) in academic-policy engagement through four mechanisms for engagement.

[1] There are 165 UK universities and higher education providers in the UK, and UPEN members are currently comprised of 104 university members (63%) in just over four years.

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