The UK Community Partner Network and NCCPE have had a busy start to the year. On January 12th we facilitated a workshop with community based organisations working with researchers on Connected Communities funded projects. There was a wealth of experience in the room as we explored the specific experiences of being the community partner on a research project.
Fundamental to a great partnership was the need to get the foundations right, ensuring that each partner has had an opportunity to share what is most important for them. Whilst few people wanted to have formal documents to support the partnership, people were keen to have agreed principles of working (such as those outlined in the Ethics for Community Based Participatory Research). One of the highlights was the range of outputs from the collaborations – summarised in the wordle above. Whilst clearly website, exhibitions and events fared really well, if you look carefully you can also see bee hives; apps; and totem poles.
Despite some of the challenges experienced in the partnerships, delegates were resolute that they were worth the effort – with a range of personal, organisational and societal benefits – including confidence; new skills; new networks and contacts; and an opportunity to improve services.
We concluded the workshop with looking at how we would make a case to different people about the importance of involving community based organisations in research. This led to a specific challenge: what evidence do we have that might convince funders; our CEO; universities; or our community that this work is worth it. If you have specific examples of the impact of community university research partnerships please let us know. The report from the event will be available soon.
Later in January we were in Newcastle, where we met with community partners, academics and brokers to explore how to make great research partnerships, and understand better the university landscape. This workshop drew on Cap-a-pie’s creative enquiry approach to encourage discussion and reflection on topics of interest. This saw us dancing; drawing; writing poetry; and making hand sculptures – with a view to helping us think through the things that made community university partnerships rewarding and challenging. Starting with a stimulus, delegates suggested words that they associated with the stimulus, which we then used to help us explore how universities and community organisations can work together. We spent some time coupling one of the words we suggested with the word university – so what would the ‘family university’ or the ‘university of secrets’ be like? My favourite was created by Andrew Marchant from Mental Health Concern who chose to explore the Family University. He suggests: "Each family creates a website, with university support, to describe the knowledge and wisdom each generation has learned so that successive generations can 'go back' and learn/debate from the other - family wisdom." It reminded me of the wonderful University of Local Knowledge – which curates a range of different knowledges held in individuals in our community. If you haven’t seen it – check it out here.
My lasting feeling from the event was both the enthusiasm and commitment of people who want to collaborate on research – but the huge challenge of finding the right person to get the partnership started. The UKCPN has a guide to help people think this through, and we are in the process of developing a more detailed guide that includes current initiatives. For example, few of the heritage partners had heard of the WW1 hubs – supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council as part of their connected communities programme – however this is a great way to find academics to partner on WW1 relevant heritage projects. If you know of projects we should include let us know.