Developing Ethics of Engagement for Sheffield

Recently we have been working to develop some guidelines for ‘engaged‘ activity within the University of Sheffield. We have some excellent activity already in existence within the curriculum here at Sheffield, and as we work to develop this area, we are aware that providing guidance for those embarking on engaged activity may go some way to safeguarding the communities we are working with; the students undertaking this work; and the reputation of the University.

The concept of ‘ethics of engagement’ came about through discussions with University academics with vast experience of engaged activity within the curriculum. They highlighted the difference in process between the vigorous ethics approval process required in advance of undertaking any research, and how it seemed slightly strange to find a lack of similar approval process required before working with external groups, many of which may be under-represented, from vulnerable communities, and have had little prior contact with the University. We decided that rather than aiming to introduce strict approval criteria for engaged activity within the curriculum, a sensible first step would be to develop a set of guidelines, outlining key areas of consideration for University staff wishing to engage with external individuals or groups within their teaching.

Some initial ideas for principles which draw on current practice and national guidelines for engagement in scholarship were drawn up. Not all of them apply to every instance of engaged learning and teaching. They include:

  • Community partners and the University should benefit from the engagement
  • Co-production. Community partners and University co-develop initiatives.
  • Exploring ways to facilitate partner-led approaches, in which initiatives can respond to community needs and/or aspirations
  • Sustainability: the importance of maintaining relationships with community partners, and avoiding instrumentalising them
  • Multiple and appropriate forms of dissemination
  • Not leaving ‘debris’ behind us
  • Exploring forms of recognition of participation and engagement for partners

Our aim is to develop guidance for each of the key areas outlined above. We are also working with the University’s flagship Achieve More initiative to provide guidelines for Faculty Challenge activity taking place in the community. We will keep you updated as this area of work unfolds.



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