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Connecting communities and researchers to build powerful knowledge

Press release issued: 14 April 2016

Results of research to discover how communities are changing will be presented at an event in London today.

The Connected Communities programme promotes new forms of university/community research collaboration. It is funded by Research Councils UK and the Arts and Humanities Research Council. Since 2010, more than 300 projects linking academic and community expertise have been funded.

The research provides important lessons about how to fund, conduct and sustain high quality research collaborations between academics and civil society in the arts, humanities and social sciences. These lessons have important implications for the research community – in particular those involved in funding, policy making and universities.

Professor Keri Facer, from the University of Bristol’s Graduate School of Education, led the research. She said: “The programme brought together more than 700 academics and 500 collaborating organisations. Topics ranged from festivals to community food, from everyday creativity to care homes, from hyperlocal journalism to community energy.  

“It is distinctive in its commitment to encouraging exploratory and open-ended projects, which involve collaboration between university and community partners, and in its commitment to drawing on the methods and theories of the arts and humanities to understand and research ‘community’.”

The research report, ‘Creating Living Knowledge’, focuses on the lessons to be learned from the programme about how to bring together expert and public knowledges – a trend in both universities and the wider policy and public spheres.

Professor Facer said: “Our report highlights the need for the infrastructure for high quality research partnerships to be enhanced, by extending the Connected Communities funding approach across research councils. It also shows the need for new funding schemes that allow community partners to take the lead in designing research problems, and invite in academic partners from an early stage as collaborators, not merely evaluators”.

“It is also abundantly clear that time is an essential part of collaborative research. We are calling for changes to funding to help with this. Not in terms of extra funding, but for funding periods to be extended over longer timescales, to allow collaborators more time to do their work and build partnerships.”

The researchers also argue it is critical to avoid the risk of enhancing inequalities through collaborative research. The report calls for funders to develop a better understanding of the types of community partners, and the forms of funding and support that may be offered to or requested by different groups.

“We also need explicit efforts to be made to understand and address the barriers that prevent different minority groups from becoming involved in research projects,” said Professor Facer.

“This report is a really significant landmark,” said Paul Manners, director of the National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement and Associate Professor at the University of the West of England. “There is more and more pressure on researchers to ‘engage’ and generate ‘impact’. What ‘Creating Living Knowledge’ demonstrates is both why that matters – the results can be extraordinary – but also how challenging it is to work in this way.”

“It captures the reality of collaborating and connecting across different kinds of expertise and ways of knowing.  It makes plain what the underlying tensions and challenges can be.  And, perhaps most importantly, it distils the learning of dozens of projects to provide really practical tools to help anyone wanting to embark on this kind of work.  I was left marvelling at the creativity and ambition of the many people involved in Connected Communities. I urge anyone who is intrigued by the possibilities of finding new ways of building powerful knowledge to explore the stories and lessons that animate this wonderful publication.”

The full report is being presented today at a workshop at the RSA in London. The workshop is hosted by Professor Andrew Thompson, Interim Chief Executive of the Arts and Humanities Research Council and Professor Facer, in collaboration with the National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement.

It brings together key funders, leading academics, university leaders and civil society leaders, to take these lessons forward and create a robust and vibrant landscape for community-university partnerships in future.

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