Collaborative Community Research Dissemination and Networking
Experiences and challenges
University of Brighton
University of Sheffield
Gateways: International Journal of Community Research and Engagement
Vol 10 (2017)
© 2017 by H Macpherson, C Davies, A Hart, S Eryigit-Madzwamuse, A Rathbone, E Gagnon, L Buttery & S Dennis. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 Unported (CC BY 4.0) License (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), allowing third parties to copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format and to remix, transform, and build upon the material for any purpose, even commercial, provided the original work is properly cited and states its license.
Citation: Macpherson, H, Davies, C, Hart, A, Eryigit-Madzwamuse, S, Rathbone, A, Gagnon, E, Buttery, L & Dennis, S 2017, ‘Collaborative community research dissemination and networking: Experiences and challenges’, Gateways: International Journal of Community Research and Engagement, vol. 10, pp. 298–312. doi: 10.5130/ijcre.v10i1.5436
Corresponding author: Hannah Macpherson; firstname.lastname@example.org
Published by UTS ePRESS http://epress.lib.uts.edu.au/journals/index.php/ijcre/index
Since their earliest establishment, there has been a continuous preoccupation with what role universities might have in relation to their communities when faced with the challenge to be ‘…of and not just in their community’ (Watson 2003, p. 6). Social responsibility has now been identified as a core function of a higher education institution (HEI) (Parsons 2014), with significant consideration being given in the literature to how to conduct collaborative, engaged or community-based participatory research (see, for example, Benneworth et al. 2009; Boser 2006; Hart, Madisson & Wolff 2007; Macpherson 2011; Savan & Sider 2003; Wright et al. 2011). What is persistently absent, however, is how to follow that principle through to forms of collaborative research dissemination and networking beyond open access publishing. This practice article reports on our experiences of a collaborative exhibition (from planning to delivery) at the Research Showcase event held in Cardiff in June 2014. The event was part of the larger Connected Communities Programme established by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council. One of the aims of the program is to get community partners more involved in the entirety of the research process, from setting research priorities to disseminating research findings.
This article has been written primarily by university-based authors with contributions and critical reflections from some of our collaborative partners. It describes the context within which the event took place and the co-exhibitors involved. It outlines our agreed objectives and distinct expectations in deciding to co-exhibit. It captures some of our achievements, but in order to maximise learning it focuses on the key challenges we faced and how we addressed them. Specifically, it identifies some of the tensions and logistical issues experienced from planning to delivery of the exhibition and how they might be resolved in the future. We also highlight structural changes that we feel could be made by funders to enable more equitable and accessible means of dissemination, learning and networking. We draw the conclusion that, even in the not often discussed nitty-gritty of collaborative exhibiting and research dissemination, significant skills and qualities are required. These include trust, transparency, flexibility and compromise.
THE CONNECTED COMMUNITIES PROGRAMME
The Connected Communities Programme (CCP) is a United Kingdom based cross-council research program of the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). The overarching aim of the program is to help understand the changing nature of communities in their historical and cultural contexts and the role of communities in sustaining and enhancing quality of life. It seeks to both deliver research in conjunction with community partners and help community partners understand and get more involved in setting research priorities. The program has involved a £30 million investment in over 300 projects since 2010. Key themes of this broad program include community health and wellbeing, community creativity, prosperity and regeneration, community values and participation, sustainable community environments, places and spaces, and community cultures, diversity, cohesion, exclusion and conflict. Under ‘Vision and Overview’, the AHRC Connected Communities Programme website states the following:
The vision for the programme is to mobilise the potential for increasingly inter-connected, culturally diverse, communities to enhance participation, prosperity, sustainability, health and well-being by better connecting research, stakeholders, and communities.
This emphasis on cross-connection reflects the AHRC connected communities’ aim of fostering a more equitable research agenda and supporting skill sharing, and one of the program’s key mechanisms for realising this objective is the staging of an annual Research Showcase event.
As a group of connected communities research academics and collaborators (detailed in the next section), we attended the second of its annual showcases in Cardiff in June 2014. The showcases represent an exciting opportunity for community partners to be brought into the heart of AHRC activity to both exhibit and gain an overview of the connected communities’ research program. As Facer and Enright (2016, p. 8) – research fellows attached to the programme – recognise:
The Connected Communities Programme demonstrates that ‘public value’ from research is not about creating short term, instrumental partnerships in which universities offer quick evaluations or specialist inputs in exchange for communities offering access to a ‘real world’. Rather, it is about creating substantive conversations between the different sets of expertise and experience that university and community partners offer, and in so doing, enabling the core questions that both are asking to be reframed and challenged. Such a set of relationships is far from the naïve economic model that would see the value of research judged by its immediate utility. Instead, it is about the creation of a new public knowledge landscape where communities, and the universities that form part of those communities, can collaborate to question, research and experiment to create new ways of understanding, seeing and acting in the world.
However, for this ‘new public knowledge landscape’ to be realised, we argue that greater attention needs to be paid to issues of clear communication, accessibility and equity if the ideals of cross-connection, broad participation and new public knowledge are to be attained. There were opportunities to raise these issues with the showcase organisers, both at the showcase itself and following its completion, so the research fellows who were attached to the program and tasked with developing an overview of its workings have already integrated some of this feedback in their report (see Facer & Enright 2016). However, we hope that future programs that involve collaborative research dissemination can build on the learning and skills development that stemmed from our own team’s experience of the showcase event and is outlined in this article. As Facer and Enright (2016, p. 6) note in their connected communities report:
The most significant and sustainable legacies … are embodied. Participants in projects are developing new skills, knowledge and understanding as well as the confidence to put these into action in the networks, organisations and partnerships they are involved with beyond the project itself. At the same time, the programme has nurtured the development of a new generation of community and university researchers who have ‘grown up collaborative’ and who take for granted the value and potential benefits of interdisciplinary community-university partnerships.
OUR PARTICIPATION IN THE RESEARCH SHOWCASE
Who we are
The collaboration discussed in this article involved both academics at the University of Brighton and a number of arts-based organisations that have an interest in resilience and helped deliver the ‘Resilience House’ at the Research Showcase and some of the projects that were collaboratively produced and represented at the showcase.
Art in Mind is an arts organisation in Brighton run by and for young people facing mental health complexities. With Art in Mind as a partner and Macpherson (as principal investigator), we developed ‘Building resilience through community arts practice: A scoping study with disabled young people and young people facing mental health challenges’ (Macpherson, Hart & Heaver 2014, 2015).
Carousel and Culture Shift Arts Connect are both arts-based programs providing social and development opportunities for people with learning difficulties in Brighton and East Sussex, and were involved in working alongside Brighton University academics on another connected communities project entitled ‘Using a Communities of Practice model to contribute to community cohesion and self-reliance’.
The Virtual School for Children in Care works with Looked After Children and Care Leavers (young adults who have left care) to promote positive experiences and engagement in education, training and employment in Brighton. In conjunction with Professor Hart, one of our connected communities’ academics, they produced ‘Exploring resilience of young adults with learning difficulties – a co-inquiry’, which was represented at the showcase.
At the University of Brighton community engagement has long been a part of the university’s strategic vision. In all of the projects listed above we focus on mutual benefit for all involved and link this activity to teaching, future programs and research. However, these aspirations do not exist in a vacuum and must contend with what Chatterton (2000) calls the ‘push and pull’ of engagement. In the UK today, universities are facing the rise of the knowledge economy, increasing ‘marketisation’ of higher education and increasing student fees. Engagement as a strategic choice can act as both a push and a pull factor. We believe community-based research and dissemination that stems from the right collaborative partnerships can achieve much within this context. The resilience-related research and practice development, to which this article relates, has been part of the community-university partnership agenda at Brighton since its inception 10 years ago (www.boingboing.org.uk). Therefore, it was a natural step for us to apply for Connected Communities Programme funding and to attend the showcase event with our research partners. As academics, our aims for participating in the showcase were to:
- raise the profile of young people in the festival, including people with mental health issues, looked after young people (who have foster families) and those with learning disabilities
- contribute to placing co-produced collaborative work at the heart of the showcase with a clear community, as well as academic, presence
- contribute to the capacity building of young people as research collaborators
- ensure a positive developmental impact for all young people involved in attending and exhibiting at the showcase
- further develop and strengthen the relationships between Brighton based academic and community organisations and community organisations in Cardiff and Newport
- engage targeted groups of local Welsh families, schoolchildren and young people to encourage their participation in the showcase event.
Attending the Research Showcase involved 30 of us travelling from Brighton to Cardiff on a ‘green’ bus fuelled by vegetable oil (we all smelt of chips by the time we arrived!) and joining 10 other community partners and academics at the venue. Once there, we set up the installation known as the Resilience House, which had been many months in the planning. This was a large furnished gazebo with different rooms, representing different aspects of resilience-related research in which the range of co-exhibitors had been engaged. The house was decorated with exhibitors’ artwork that had been produced collaboratively.
The showcase event in Cardiff was an excellent opportunity to bring a diverse group of stakeholders together to showcase ongoing research that fell under the umbrella of the Connected Communities Programme. At the showcase, a university academic (Macpherson) spoke to all 40 participants and conducted informal one-to-one recorded interviews in order to aid the process of reflecting on and evaluating what was achieved at the showcase event as well as the challenges faced.
OUTCOMES: DEVELOPMENTAL GAINS
The opportunity to be at a Research Showcase was quite a step forward for these diverse and marginalised young people who wouldn’t normally attend such events. For some of the young people who attended, travelling to a different town hundreds of miles from Brighton, mixing with people they didn’t know, staying overnight without their parents and presenting their work was extremely challenging. However, on the surface, a number of the group could have been viewed as relatively high achievers with greater levels of confidence than some of their peers who face similar issues. Feedback from the young people highlighted, however, the necessity of not taking their challenges or their level of need for granted.
We’ve all got experiences of mental health issues and/or learning difficulties. Outside I might look confident and happy, but certain situations make me really anxious, and I was very anxious about going to Cardiff. It was alright and it went well, but I was worrying loads about what could go wrong. It could actually have impacted really badly on my mental health, but it was fine, and turned out to be a great experience. (Lisa Buttery, Boingboing Artist in Residence)
The young people presented their work to a diverse audience from research and practice backgrounds. Working together to construct the Resilience House as part of the showcase, practising and delivering presentations, and talking to people on the stalls were all important and challenging developmental opportunities for the young people. The sense of pride they expressed in what they had done was evident.
It was great to present our work and I felt proud of our part of the stand and the stand as a whole though again, more people to actually see it would have been better. (Chris Dunne, Art in Mind) I was really scared to do the presentation. I didn’t believe I could do it, but after I had more confidence and then I knew I could stand up and say things and people would listen to me. I never felt like that before but now I can do presentations again in the future. (Arts Connect participant)
Exhibiting at the event also provided the opportunity to bring together a diverse group of people from across the university and the community who wouldn’t otherwise work alongside each other.
For me personally the event brought together partnerships and people which I would not otherwise [have] had a chance to meet and talk with, particularly the young people. I think the presentations would have made a big impact … Amongst many of the achievements was getting the young people to the festival and celebrating their work. It was wonderful to see the young people have their work on display and talk to people about it and be proud of what they have achieved. I just wish that this could have been more widely shared. (Christina Panton, University of Brighton Occupational Therapy Student)
The learning I have taken from preparing for and attending this event is huge. I was very involved with the development of our stand and during the process have been exposed to many issues surrounding collaborative working and have developed an appreciation for the level of detail, nuance and planning it takes to support the inclusion of community partners. Now embarking on my own doctorate with plans to undertake collaborative research I expect the impact of this learning to ripple through my work for years to come. It was not an easy undertaking, but seeing the pride of the young people and seeing what we all could achieve together has been very motivating and inspiring. (Emily Gagnon, Community Researcher)
TENSIONS AND CHALLENGES
While some of the issues we faced at this showcase and networking event are common to the wider literature on community-based participatory research (e.g. working with diverse groups of people, using appropriate language and communication, and focusing on mutual benefit for participants), we also found that there were specific tensions and expectations and new skill sets and bodies of expertise that were required to navigate this undertaking. These acted as barriers to the CCP aims for the showcase being fully achieved. We discuss these in detail below.
Time: There Is Never Enough of It
There is a CCP ideal around collaboration but sometimes not sufficient lead time to put this in place. The organisers did recognise this and issued a call for contributions at the beginning of the year, with the actual showcase event to take place in June. However, the time it actually took to write the bids and confirm the successful applications meant that the team only had a few months to prepare the showcase materials and work out the details of the exhibition and presentations between the different project groups.
In the lives of young people with complex needs (who may, for example, need more time to prepare materials), eight weeks was not long enough to get ready for such a big social and intellectual challenge.
For example, Claire Griffiths, the film-maker on the project, who specialises in supporting people with learning difficulty to make their own films said:
… you need time, you need so much time. It would be a whole project in itself to teach these young people about documentary film making. So we are having to take the lead on this in order to make something meaningful in the timeframe.
Lack of time also influenced the discrepancy between the amount of support co-exhibitors wanted to contribute and what they were actually able to give. Some partners worked intensively on producing the showcase – for example, young artist Lisa Buttery and Emily Gagnon, a community researcher working with Boingboing, co-curated the stand. Both felt considerable ownership of the process. However, a lack of time for some partners seemed to feed into a lack of attachment to the showcase event and perhaps a slight feeling of being ‘roped in’ (showcase participant).
Working with Lisa to curate the stand was a fantastic experience but also very time-consuming as there was so much for us to organise and manage. Probably the most frustrating thing was knowing the other young people were keen and had so much more to offer, but despite the material resources available – like free room hire and access to mini busses – we simply did not have the capacity to put in place the support infrastructure necessary to hold the workshops which would have realised this potential. Planning workshops and transport to meet diverse needs takes time, and we just did not have enough. So, while we’re taking on more than we needed to other young people were feeling disconnected from the process. (Emily Gagnon, Community Researcher)
With hindsight, we were possibly over-ambitious about the number of young people we recruited. But, on the other hand, we were keen to make the event as inclusive as possible for young people with different abilities and needs, and give as many as possible this opportunity to participate.
We probably didn’t “need” the young people from Arts Connect to attend. There were enough other young people, who had been involved in university partnership for longer, to staff the Resilience House and who could have done a presentation. On the other hand, the positive impact on those young people was immeasurable and some even articulated it as a life changing experience. (Anne Rathbone, University of Brighton Doctoral Student)
Navigating Expectations: Implicit and Explicit Agendas at the Showcase
The Research Showcase event was located at two sites in Cardiff, with a shuttle bus connecting them. There was an expectation that group members would spend time explaining what was being achieved through their work and, given the differing needs of the group, quite a lot of preparatory work prior to the event went in to supporting some of the young people to meet new people and talk about their work. Some young people did get the opportunity to talk about the contents of the Resilience House to visitors, however others didn’t because of the limited visitor numbers.
Many of our group wondered how much publicity the event had had outside of the invited research project participants, as the number of people from the community was lower than we had anticipated. There were sessions hosted by a number of community venues across the city. However, it was this lack of a ‘public’ to showcase their work to that disappointed some of the group who had put a lot of work into what they thought would be a ‘public engagement event’.
We needed the public and some more communities! I actually felt a bit disappointed that we all worked so hard and only a few people got to see the tent and other art work by the young people. (Ceri Davies, University of Brighton: Cupp)
The event was different to how I imagined as I thought there would have been more stands there and there would have been more people in attendance. (Arts Connect participant)
It could have been a more powerful event, had a huge potential, if public was well-represented. Future events should put more effort on publicizing the showcase. Having multiple locations was also another challenge and also I think influenced the number of people attended. (Suna Eryigit-Madzwamuse, University of Brighton)
The event was largely attended by other researchers and some of their community partners. We were the largest group to attend the event, and in fact colleagues from the AHRC mentioned that we were over-ambitious in the number of people we had in attendance. However, one reason for our group being so large was that we needed a large number of adults to address the support needs of the young people who participated. In contrast, the staffing of most other stalls included just one or two community partners at best and so was dominated by university-based staff. This was a surprise for our group, and the overall lack of community partners in attendance was a disappointment. Furthermore, the remit of the showcase was so broad that attendance from the wider public and local interested organisations was weak. If the general public is part of the target audience, more attention may need to be given when planning future showcases to consider how the content can, in fact, attract them. Future briefs on these types of event should also include more stringent expectations about the level and nature of community partner involvement in order to appropriately shape the expectations of all involved.
Our expectation of the event was that it would be a public and associated organisation showcase for research partners. However, it seemed evident that what it had become was a showcase to funders and a networking opportunity primarily for academics to consider future bid development. Macpherson discussed this with one of our collaborators who stated:
I think once I understood that really this was a showcase for funders and securing future funding rather than really for the public I could understand what was going on better. The first day I just couldn’t visualize the big picture of why we were here. (Darren, Virtual School)
I think people forget how obscure the culture of research councils and funding can be to those not embedded in academic circles. For the young people I worked with their expectations for the Showcase were based on their experiences of the art exhibitions and project displays their group had held at community events and in public spaces – the discrepancy between such events and a roomful of mostly academics caused some confusion…the lack of exposure of their artwork to public and peers seemed to add an edge of disappointment for some. (Emily Gagnon, Community Researcher)
I felt that there were a core group of connected people who were ‘in the know’ that were coming together at the event to do some workshops/thinking and this didn’t feel very open to other participation. So it might have been improved by having a range of opportunities for people to network together – not necessarily the project leads who might already know each other, but all the people they are working with as well. (Ceri Davies, University of Brighton: Cupp)
These comments show that the expectations of our partners in the showcase event were very different from the reality of being there. We felt that to maximise the opportunity of bringing together such a diverse group of people and projects, it would have been ideal to create some space for networking that would have cultivated more explicitly some of the connections and links at the event. For example, a sub-event or panel might have helped our group link more closely with the conference. Creation of these spaces could be a key way to encourage more informal dissemination and engage a range of academic and non-academic partners in the themes and ideas of the program. If the event is to be truly inclusive, then paying attention to these details is important.
I think I would participate in an event like this again; it was interesting and fun and with a lovely group of people trying to do good things. My one hesitation would be if it seemed like not many people would see our work again. (Chris Dunne, Art in Mind)
Cultures of Language and the Non-verbal: We Just Make Art
For some of the collaborators who came along to the event, the activities that they were involved in felt very different from the language they were framed in as part of the showcase.
Resilience is a particular ‘culture of language’ that you can use to explain and justify what you do. (Art in Mind young person)
Subconsciously I draw on the resilience ideas. I make myself recognize the positives. It’s definitely helpful for that. I’ve been involved in our resilience work for ages now, and was involved with putting two resources together, and other people came to it later and are still trying to get their heads around it. (Lisa Buttery, Boingboing Artist in Residence)
This reflects a common tension that collaborative research practitioners encounter when working with concepts and ideas in different domains and with different timescales and levels of involvement. It is unsurprising that different people have a different grasp of and rationale for the practices and ideas being used – in this case, the concept and exploration of resilience. This also extends to those who visited the house at the showcase who had a definition of resilience that covered anything from ecological flood risk to ‘community resilience’ in areas of regeneration. Working with specific concepts across community-university boundaries means that everybody will interpret these ideas according to their own context. And as illustrated further below, many people may be making ‘resilient moves’, without labelling them in that way. The implications of this for showcasing and disseminating research are not straightforward.
We found that the different rationales and cultures of language and practice that animate academic and community partner work means you have to stay in this tension. A key and meaningful way of generating understanding, presenting research and its outputs, and implementing and sharing theory in practice is to develop different artefacts or boundary objects (Hart et al. 2013). For us, this included art work made by the young people, films, badges and posters, and academic papers, booklets and resources. Such an approach also resists the duality between ‘researcher’ and ‘community’ in co-presenting the outcomes of the research.
It seems to me that there is a problem in this space in that the art releases people from their identity categories because in the moment of making art they are not a person with a mental health problem or a person leaving care. They are just a person absorbed in the making. The application process for participating in the event and an involvement in presenting work to research communities ends up re-inscribing peoples identities as ‘marginalised’ or as ‘young people with mental health problems’ that in fact arts activities had, at least temporarily and partially, released those people from. (Hannah Macpherson, University of Brighton)
There are clearly complex issues, and indeed contradictions, at play here. A competitive bidding process meant that we felt the need to clearly define the identities of the different people coming along to convene our stand. This was done to show that we would be involving people who were not simply the ‘usual suspects’. Future showcase events would benefit from continuing to ensure it is not just the ‘usual suspects’ who attend. To do this, diversity and inclusion need to be central organising principles of the event.
Networking and Interacting with other Visitors and Stallholders: The Need to Develop New Skill Sets and Dispositions
Part of the rationale for attending the showcase was that community partners would get to tour the other stalls and see what other kinds of research were occurring under the same program. However, the skills, sociocultural knowledge and disposition to tour stalls with confidence are not a given. In fact, some of the young people found approaching other stalls intimidating and felt a bit jumped on when they ventured outside the house. Equally, it was sometimes hard for them to know when it was appropriate to talk to visitors to our own stall. This sort of sociocultural knowledge specific to research dissemination and information gathering is a learnt disposition and skill that cannot be assumed to be held by all community partners. It takes experience, practice and confidence.
At the start of the event I think people did not really know when to talk to the people who visited our stand and so some people just popped their head in and then left without anyone speaking to them. As the day progressed, people became better at this and it was great seeing the young people asking visitors to the stand if they would like to sit at the table while they talked about the projects they had been involved in. If I was to do it again I would brief the other team members more about how/when to approach people. (Scott, BoingBoing)
As a research student I am really happy to be working with people in the community in a partnership model. I see this as a really important way forward for the university to be relevant to local social capital and society in general. If I did an event like this again I would be a bit more assertive about needing a clear brief. For example, we didn’t really know who we were presenting to until we got there. (Anne Rathbone, University of Brighton Doctoral Student)
Although a few school groups and our colleagues working with Welsh Mind attended the showcase, overall there was weak participation by the general public. This may have been because the remit was so broad. Future events might specifically target groups of further education students, for example, which might capitalise on the breadth of the remit and enable student access to a wide variety of academics and community partners working on exciting collaborative research projects.
Getting the Basics Right: Food, Water and Transport
For those of us coordinating our group, and for the AHRC organisers, it is important to note that ensuring our group members’ basic needs were met was not completely achieved in the opinion of some of the participants. On the positive side, we received appropriate funding from the AHRC for the visit, and so were able to accommodate our group in a hotel right opposite the showcase site to which we had been assigned. This meant that, once we arrived in Cardiff, we could immediately establish ourselves at the site without lengthy commuting backwards and forwards to our hotel. Furthermore, we were able to budget to include other adults in our group whose role it was to offer additional support to those who needed it, and we had enough funds to eat out at a restaurant on both nights of the trips and to buy snacks and drinks for the young people.
However, meeting some other basic needs was challenging. For example, having the showcase on two sites was not ideal. When we arrived at the showcase venue all our name labels were at the other site. Also, there were no free refreshments apart from a basic packed lunch at lunchtime. This differed from the other venue, where a more substantial lunchtime meal was provided. This comparison and perceived inequity caused unnecessary criticisms of the refreshments at our venue. Furthermore, some staff supporting young people felt that the lack of tap water facilities in a hot venue was a basic oversight.
We had a group of young people with learning disabilities with us with limited money and a penchant for Coke and we couldn’t even get them water to drink from the cafe without paying for it. It was very hot and stuffy in the exhibition space. We bought them bottles of water and squash but when they saw the fizzy drinks that’s what they wanted. (Anne Rathbone, University of Brighton Doctoral Student)
Deciding on the most appropriate mode of transport was a key issue. After various deliberations regarding the complexities of three train changes, most of the group travelled in a chip fat fuelled bus to the event – sustainable, but actually impossible to sustain a conversation on the bus because of the noise, according to one participant!
I was sat on the bus wondering why it had gone so quiet, then I realised it was so noisy that people had given up trying to talk over the noise … I was by the wheel arch - my left cheek vibrated so much it went numb. (Virtual school member)
However, another remarked in response to reading this:
I didn’t think it was much louder than a normal bus, and I preferred it to the train as I would have been anxious about having to change and being around all those people at the station. (Lisa Buttery, Artist in residence, Boingboing)
Getting these basics right is very important in order to keep partners on board and feeling valued.
In this article we have explored some of the tensions and challenges of attending and presenting at a Research Showcase event as a diverse team of academics, community partner staff and young people. We identified that factoring in time, shaping expectations of all contributors, training contributors to speak to the public about their work, ensuring appropriate sub-forums are constructed and attended to disseminate work, discussing different cultures of language and ensuring basic needs are met are key issues that need to be addressed if ideals of cross-connection and a new public knowledge landscape are to be realised in practice. Some of these were anticipated and some not, but all provided useful learning for the future. Most of the issues faced are not represented in current literature, perhaps because they deal with basic logistical and administrative issues. However, getting the nitty-gritty right and satisfying people’s basic needs are crucial to meaningful collaborative research activity. Significant skills and qualities are required even at the level of nitty-gritty, including (if possible) qualities of trust, transparency, flexibility and compromise amongst all participants.
Issues as basic as transport, preparation, and a shared understanding of the remit and audience for the event – which might not have been seen as noteworthy for a less diverse group – were thrown into sharp relief by the diversity of our showcase team and the complex network of partnerships.
Therefore, it is important that, in undertaking collaborative ventures such as this, we look afresh at logistical issues and avoid making assumptions during the planning process. Issues such as insurance cover for community collaborators who are neither students or staff, accessible travel arrangements, careful risk assessment and management, and payment for support staff if required are all issues that the university and the funding organisation need to address if they are serious about community collaboration. These issues are second nature to most community organisations, and universities need to be open to learning from their experiences and challenging internal bureaucracies. Furthermore, careful attention needs to be paid to the different motivations and objectives of the various parties attending such events. This was not something we did in a comprehensive manner at the outset, and future organisers of such events would be wise to ask how varied organisations and participants’ objectives differ and how they can best be met.
Through attendance at the showcase and reflecting on it afterwards, interview-based reflection and co-authoring this article, invaluable learning and development was achieved by all of us, whatever our specific role. This will hopefully enable the individuals and the university and community partners to continue to make collaborative research meaningfully inclusive from inception through to presentation of outputs.
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