In this guest blog, Dr Steve Kirkwood provides advice from his experience of being a programme lead on one of our Knowledge Exchange programmes. Steve is a Senior Lecturer in Social Work at the University of Edinburgh.
I was the joint lead on a Scottish Universities Insight Institute (SUII)-funded programme in 2017 entitled ‘Developing Restorative Justice in Scotland’. In case you’re not aware, restorative justice is a process for facilitating safe communication between the direct victim of a crime and the person who committed a crime. It is well used in various parts of the world, and the evidence for its effectiveness is relatively strong, however it is little used in Scotland. The purpose of our programme was to explore and share the international evidence on restorative justice with policy makers, practitioners and academics in the Scottish criminal justice scene, with the hope of informing local policy and practice.
We ran six events with local and international speakers that explored this evidence and its relevance to Scotland. The main presentations were filmed and made available on the project website. We also produced a special issue of a journal on the topic. For the final event we focused on the implications for policy and practice; a professional facilitator managed the discussion, a cartoonist visualised the event live, and we launched Scottish Government guidance on restorative justice.
We seemed to achieve our aims, increasing the level of discussion and understanding about restorative justice. It led to increased engagement between us and policy makers, we saw parliamentary questions being asked about the topic, and we saw a recent Scottish Government commitment to increase the availability of restorative justice. Overall, I’d say the project was successful, stimulating and fun!
Why SUII is a great funder
If you’re thinking about undertaking knowledge exchange work, then SUII is a great source of funding. Here’s my top reasons why:
- They are very flexible. Although we had a clear plan from the beginning, this did change over time, sometimes for practical reasons, because new opportunities came up, or because our thinking about what was needed went in new directions. SUII were very happy for us to change our plans and direct resources at new opportunities or methods, so long as they were contributing to the main aim of the project (and within budget!).
- They deal with the event administration. Before applying, I hadn’t fully realised how much of the administration of the events SUII would deal with. They were able to find event venues, deal with catering companies, create event sign up pages, book travel and accommodation for speakers, and be present at events on the day to register participants and deal with any practical issues that arose. This allowed us to focus on the key aspects of the programme, focusing on what we wanted to achieve, who we wanted to involve, and how we wanted to go about it, rather than being tied up with administrative work.
- Their website can host your programme’s outputs. Originally we had grand plans for creating and maintaining a project website. Although this was a sound idea, in practice we didn’t have the time or energy to do this, and we were unclear how we would maintain it after the end of the project. Fortunately, SUII has a website that is able to host a range of materials and outputs, including videos and documents.
Top tips when applying for SUII-funded projects
Based on my experience, I have a few suggestions for people considering applying for SUII funding:
- Use existing networks or establish networks early. Our project team was mostly drawn from the Restorative Justice Forum for Scotland. This is essentially a network that has representatives from a range of statutory and voluntary organisations in the criminal justice sector in Scotland, plus academics. We were able to draw on members of the Forum to contribute to the design of the project, join the planning committee, speak at events, distribute event invites, and make use of our outputs. Drawing on an existing network, or otherwise investing time in creating a network that spans research, policy and practice at an early stage, will likely make your funding application more credible and will increase engagement with your project, including helping to sustain its results beyond the end of the project.
- Make plans for engaging key stakeholders. We intended to engage with everyday people who had been responsible for offending behaviour or affected by crime. However, we never really came up with a plan for how to do this, so in the end our engagement with these groups was very low. In retrospect, we needed to develop a specific plan to engage people with these backgrounds. To do so might have involved having different types of events from the public seminars we ran (e.g., perhaps smaller focus groups) and working closely with key organisations that support people from these populations. So if you’re trying to engage with a specific group, particularly one that may be ‘hard to reach’, then it’s a good idea to come up with a specific plan early on.
- Think bigger than just seminars. Even though our main activities were seminars in a pretty standard format, it was clear that the funding can be used very flexibly. As I mentioned, we filmed events, had a special issue of a journal, involved a professional facilitator and used a cartoonist. We also gave people postcards at the last event, where we asked them to write down something that they would do in response to the programme, and we mailed them out at a later date to remind them! However, there is scope to do much more creative work, and it’s worth thinking about what would be most engaging to help achieve your aims.
- Consider additional funding. Although the funding from SUII can go a long way, you can also look for additional funding. For instance, we had contributions from the Scottish Government and Community Justice Scotland to help cover the costs of some of our events. If you have grand plans and you think the funding from SUII won’t be enough to cover it, or other ideas and opportunities come up during the project, then it’s worth approaching relevant agencies to see if they would be willing to contribute.