Mapping Impact Together

Mapping Impact Together was an event held at Durham University that asked delegates to re-imagine the “impact” of co-produced and participatory research. Increasingly, researchers and practitioners are asked to demonstrate their impacts on society and economy. But often the understanding and measurement of “impact” do not fit projects where research and other practices are co-produced. Here the changes that take place may not be linear, one-way or quantifiable. What space can be made for diverse, big and small, two-way, cumulative, less immediate, less tangible impacts across different registers?

Gwen Dawe, Chairperson of the National Research Committee, University of the Third Age (U3A) reports back on this event for the UK Community Partner Network. 

Alternative forms of impact in co-produced research

I attended this event on 15th September at Durham University. After an introduction by Rachel Pain, Co-Director Centre for Social Justice and Community Action, we were addressed by the following speakers:

  • Writing/cast/production team of “Diehard Gateshead”

  • Kye Askins – University of Glasgow

  • Dr Lee Crookes – University of Sheffield

  • Sue Shaw, Independent Researcher

  • Yvonne Robinson – London South Bank University

  • Stella Darby – University of Leeds

The agenda was to look at alternative types of impact research had on various community projects, how these can be improved and how they can be measured.

The main focus was how the infrastructure of academic research could be adapted to encourage collaboration. It is important that the participants are recognised as partners in the project and their contribution valued, not distorted to fit some pre-conceived template. Assumptions are made about the public’s willingness to participate in research. How do we encourage them to do so?

Researchers may need to learn new skills of humility, modesty and the ability to build trusting relationships. Only then will they change the public’s perception of academia, build confidence and self-esteem to enable greater participation in the project.

When this is achieved, the knowledge and understanding of the subject area is enhanced for both researcher and participant by being extracted through the research process. They are learning together and so both benefiting from the experience.

When this relationship is lacking, participants feel alienated and a ‘them and us’ situation arises. The community is made to feel inadequate by academic arrogance, “We are here to solve your problems”. Participants feel exploited and become resistant to further involvement.

The presenters highlighted, and gave a vocabulary to the ‘impact’ research has on participants, something they found difficult to evaluate, yet it is imperative to satisfy funders today. They were all conscious to a greater or lesser degree that they were exploiting participants for their own ends, but recognised the community in general and at an individual level, needed to gain something from the experience and this should be clear from the start.

I attended this seminar as a member of U3A with an interest in encouraging more research activity within the organisation. It increased my awareness of the importance of ensuring 'everyone is a winner' throughout the whole research process and not to take participation for granted. This entails a lot of detailed planning and will ensure a better result for all concerned.

What is your experience of co-produced research? Can it ever be truly mutually beneficial? Leave your comments below.

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