Academic Collaboration, Evaluation and Research

ACER Group

Chair Dr Rowena Hill

Dr Rowena Hill is a Professor of Psychology in the School of Social Sciences at Nottingham Trent University. Her work builds opportunities to translate evidence and research into policy and increase knowledge exchange between academics, communities, and organisations.

Rowena’s research focuses on emergency responders and emergency management. Her interests can be clustered around the facets of collective action, communication of risk, and humanitarian assistance in relation to psychological health. She is currently the embedded scientist supporting the Climate Change (Civil Contingencies) and Adverse Weather portfolio for the National Police Chief’s Council. She is an ESRC Policy Fellow to the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities on Climate Change, and is the Honorary Research Lead for the firefighters Charity. Rowena also sits on the NFCC Definition of Risk Board and the Health and Wellbeing Board.

Rowena focuses her research on the public, responder and resilience structures, considering humanitarian assistance and psychosocial support structures for those impacted by and responding to incidents.

What is ACER?

The Academic Collaboration, Evaluation and Research Group (ACER) is an independent forum, convened by NFCC, to help coordinate and maximise the benefits of academic research with relevance for fire and rescue services (FRS), to contribute to improved public and firefighter safety.

It is chaired by Rowena Hill from Nottingham Trent University and Justin Johnston, Chief Fire Officer Lancashire FRS, is the vice chair.

ACER has been established to create better national links between the fire and rescue services through the conduit of NFCC and academia. In addition to this, it will provide an ethical approach to research partnerships and potential research funding. It aims to improve the gathering, reviewing and analysis of research findings and set them into context for NFCC and/or FRS.

Why has ACER been set up?

It is recognised that to date, the approach to research within fire and rescue services has not had the benefit of national oversight and coordination. No dedicated resources have been available to support research, and opportunities that may exist to attract research funding have not been maximised.

Many local relationships exist between services and academic institutes. Specific research has been commissioned and completed, which is of benefit if known about. However, what has been missing is the ability for services to see what useful research may already be available to them to prevent duplication, or for research requirements to be collated, reviewed and prioritised against national needs rather than just local, and potentially quite bespoke, ones.

Over the last year, exploratory work to consider how a better connection between the services and academia could be established has been undertaken. Discussions with various contacts in academia confirmed that there was an appetite from both sides to improve how they work together. Proposals were discussed and a business case for the establishment of ACER was approved by NFCC in 2022, as it was unilaterally agreed that a more coordinated approach was needed.

Over the next five years, it is the ambition of the Local Government Association, National Employers and NFCC to deliver improvement priorities in the Fit for the Future strategy. The ACER Group has been set up to explore research findings aligned to NFCC and Fit for the Future priorities.

What will ACER do, and how will it work? Where are we now? (August 2023)

Following agreement that ACER should be established in the summer of 2022, work began to appoint an independent Chair from academia and to establish how the group should be formed. Academic representatives on the group were selected to represent the range of academic disciplines that have relevance to fire and rescue services. ACER Group meetings started in November 2022 and have taken place quarterly. In these meetings the group have developed:

A research portal has also been developed and compiles information provided by fire and rescue services and researchers about ongoing or completed research linked to fire and rescue service interest: research portal

As the group is still in development, there is much to do to enable the group to function. There is no desire to prevent progress on research already underway, and there will always be the need for services to work with local academic partners. What is hoped is that in the future there will be a conduit for research and a place where published research can be more easily accessed. In addition, requests for research can be collated in a more structured way and the Group can provide advice and steer on the best ways to approach research and potentially funding streams to support that.

More work is now required to establish how the Group will operate, which includes:

  • Considering how requests for research will be input to the Group
  • Identifying opportunities to provide sustainable funding streams.

Further Information

The ACER Group is a work stream within NFCC’s organisational learning project. Find out more about NFCC’s organisational learning arrangements.

For further information, contact: