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Centre for the Study of Missing Persons

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This case study has been generated by a collaborative research study of community-university partnerships. Part of the ESRC-funded Imagine Project, the study was conducted jointly by Susanne Martikke, research officer at Greater Manchester Centre for Voluntary Organisation alongside Professors Angie Hart and Andrew Church of the University of Brighton.

This project is led by Dr. Karen Shalev-Greene, University of Portsmouth and Lucy Holmes, Missing People.

In 2012, University of Portsmouth academic Karen Shalev-Greene and the charity Missing People joined forces to establish the Centre for the Study of Missing Persons, responding to the realisation that the field of missing persons was an understudied field, a mutual interest in the topic and strong demand from practitioners for research about missing people.

There had been sporadic contact between Karen and the charity during the years leading up to 2012, but it took certain ingredients to create a situation that made meaningful partnership working possible. The first was a researcher with relevant expertise and keen interest in the topic, as well as working in partnership with practitioners. The second was an organisation with a vision of the usefulness of research. The third was the serendipity of both coming together at the right time.

In Missing’s case, the right time came when Karen had come back from maternity leave with few existing commitments and met Lucy, Missing People’s research manager, who had worked hard over a few years to embed a research culture in the charity and who was keen to work with other researchers, but had only encountered people who were interested in one-off projects. The personal contact between Karen and Lucy was supported by a strong interest of the charity’s chief executive in setting up a centre of excellence headed by an academic – the idea for the research centre was born.

The partnership moved quickly from an idea to a reality to enable a soft launch at an event that Missing People was planning for the police forces. When Karen presented the idea at the event, the response was fantastic: policing professionals and other practitioners had long-wanted a hub that could translate research for officers on the ground.

After this enthusiastic reception it took months to work out the Memorandum of Understanding that stipulates how the two organisations will work with each other. Although there were a lot of issues to work out in detail, throughout the process there was an agreement in principle and a shared commitment to make it work. Both Karen and Lucy felt that this process tested the trust and therefore laid a solid foundation for working together beyond individuals. In parallel, Lucy and Karen were already learning to work together at a practical level by organising an international conference for academics and practitioners.

The centre is a vehicle for generating resources for practitioner-relevant academic research. A medium-sized charity like Missing People would normally not have much resource to divert from their original mission towards research activities. Being part of the research centre gives them access to additional resources. On the other hand, by being co-directed by the charity’s CEO, the Centre’s research agenda is sure to take into account the needs of practitioners in the missing people field and links with Missing People communications and campaigning staff also mean that research can reach the right people in policy and practice. The charity’s capacity for research is also enhanced, because Missing People now has an honorary fellowship with the University of Portsmouth and therefore access to software and publications. One member of staff has taken up a master’s degree with the centre and several other staff have contributed chapters to a book that Karen is co-editing, to be released in 2015.


Dr. Karen Shalev-Greene, Director, Centre for the Study of Missing Persons, University or Portsmouth:

Lucy Holmes, Research Manager, Missing People: