Last year we announced that the British Science Association (BSA) is embarking on a new programme of work that will explore the use of grants and non-financial support to build diversity and innovation in public engagement with health research.   

We are pleased to share that the development phase of the project is underway led by Yvonne Campbell, our new Interim Head of Grants, who has previously held various positions at The Children’s Society and more recently worked for The National Lottery Community Fund.   

Below is an extract from Yvonne’s Medium blog recapping the initial stages of the development journey. 

What is it all about? 

The BSA has been given resource from Wellcome to design and deliver a new grants scheme aimed at engaging underserved communities in health research. So my first questions was, ‘why does it matter that people are engaged in health research?’. And the answer is very simple and never more relevant with the current COVID-19 pandemic. If underserved communities are not engaged in health research, their needs are not voiced or represented, which means they are not being responded to appropriately within the design of services, policy, legislation or resource allocation.  

We have seen that people from minority ethnic communities are more likely than the white British population to die from COVID-19. Whilst we can point to racial inequalities and socio-economic disadvantage as contributors, it is vital that those most affected are engaged in the research to build a compelling evidence base to inform the design of the solutions. 

But why do we need a new funding scheme? 

Public engagement by researchers is not something new and has indeed received investment over the years — from grant-giving bodies such as Wellcome, through to the government with its Beacons for Public Engagement programme. However, through ongoing discussion between Wellcome and the BSA, the question of reaching the most underserved communities kept coming up. The BSA has always had diversity and inclusion at the heart of its work, but in more recent years has had great success in building up its community network reaching even newer audiences. In order to broaden its reach, Wellcome suggested that the BSA was well placed to develop and deliver a new grants programme, specifically focused on reaching underserved audiences. Taking the learnings from Wellcome’s previous Public Engagement Fund, the BSA is in a position to lead the development of a new grants programme that can be truly designed with the target audience at the heart of it. 

What is it going to look like? 

At the moment, we aren’t exactly sure — but that’s exactly where we want to be. We have just started a series of co-design workshops led by The Social Innovation Partnership (TSIP). They have a strong commitment to inclusive practices, amplifying minority ethnic voices and collaboration is why we wanted to work with them. There are up to 50 people including potential beneficiaries, community organisations, charities, researchers and policy professionals who will be taking part in the initial five workshops. They are helping us define the scheme prototypes — everything from outcomes, criteria, application process and evaluation plan. 

We are also working with Hyphen8 to develop a new grants management system from scratch, again co-designing with those who may apply for funding. It is important that just as much attention is given to the practicalities of how someone actually applies for funding so that we remove barriers for the very people we want to apply. 

And this week we start working with Red Stone, a creative agency that will be developing a brand for the grants programme, again through a co-design approach. Language is also something that is regularly cited as barrier to people applying for funding so we will ensure that not only is our name, logo and imagery engaging to those we want to reach, but our tone of voice and language is appropriate and inclusive. 

Next steps and timescales 

Up to early July we will be busy with the bulk of the co-design sessions and trying to work up some draft prototypes for the grants scheme and hopefully a name. Through July and August we will be refining these and starting to develop the assets that go alongside the scheme, such as the grants prospectus, the application form, the website, and the grants management system — the technical back office in order for us to efficiently manage application and awards.

We are hoping to launch in October but only if we feel we have developed a funding scheme that we believe will deliver on our ambitions to reach underserved communities and be a catalyst for change within the public engagement sector. It is important that we get it right.