PJ Evans

Creating Living Knowledge: the Connected Communities programme and what it tells us about university-community partnership

Posted on | April 21, 2016 | No Comments

These are my notes from a Digital Education Seminar at the University of Edinburgh by Professor Keri Facer on the Connected Communities research programme.

As ever with these posts, my record is partial and bias and possibly includes some inaccuracies (but not on purpose). 

The seminar was opened by Prof Sian Bayne to introduce Keri as Professor of Educational and Social Futures at Bristol University and was previously Research Director at FutureLab. Her research takes a critical stance on digital education and on the role of educational institutions in society. Today she’ll be talking about her work onConnected Communities and the newly released Creating Living Knowledge report on lessons learnt from the Connected Communities programme.
Keri Facer:
The main questions that will be explored today include: what is Connected Communities and what is shaping university-community partnership, what they are creating and the implications for the future trajectories of universities and their interface with their communities?
CC is a research council UK programme led by AHRC and currently funds 324 different projects. Projects range from 6 months to five years and involving working with external organisations from creative economy, environment, health and well-being etc…
The bigger picture of the programme is to address question of how university and community knowledge be combined to generate better research. Underpinned by the assumption that co-produced research is a ‘good thing’. The RCs are making huge claims on the potential for the co-production mode of research in terms of research quality and impact while others are concerned that this agenda is concerned with the instrumentalisation and marketisation of research.
CC enters a massively uneven playing field between large institutions through to voluntary community activists, freelancers, community organisations, etc. The HE sector is also very diversified between research/ teaching intensive interacting with socio-cultural diversity. Also, CC works with a wide diversity of motivation for engaging with research: generalists and learners engaged by interdisciplinary research; makers wanting to make something happen; scholars with a particular topic orientation; entrepreneurs interested in funding available; accidental wanderers caught up in projects; advocates for new knowledge landscape arguing for a rethink of how knowledge is generated.
The are also different research traditions in:
– participatory, collaborative, community engaged research developing grass-roots capacity
– development traditions – changing policy
– people’s history, feminist and civil rights interested in alternative narratives of history
– innovative co-design changing services and products
– open/ crowd and open innovation creating something new
– participatory arts where unsettling and exploration is the purpose.
These different traditions mobilise different performances of community and ‘publicness’. Also involving different participants and audiences and different working practices. Again, these shape the landscape of collab
Social networks and funding. Raises questions of access to social networks and how and where conversations happen. Over 50% of partners had already worked inside universities. So other possible partners face a barrier to entry to these collaborative opportunities while intensive workshops can discriminate with caring responsibilities.
So the injunction to co-produced research can reproduce and intensify existing inequalities.
Important to acknowledge that the cultures of universities can be very diverse and not only a culture of critique, e.g., engineers want to make stuff
Different groups want different things from one another: from practical help, personal value and friendships and symbolic benefits e.g., of offering authenticity and credibility and status. Everyone has to negotiate the ‘fantasy’ of the university and the community. Beyond the quick gains between partners leads to difficult questions around, e.g., the legitimacy of knowledge production or the representativeness of community groups.
Different modes of collaboration emerge:
  1. division of labour – keep to our own silos
  2. relational expertise – can we see the issue through each others eyes
  3. remake identities – about learning each others skills and knowledge so we can take on each others’ roles.
  4. colonisation – unsettled identities but no learning. Academics attempting community work or community groups attempting research data collection.
Where works well, collaboration leads to the breakdown of division and new roles are mobilised such as catalysers; integrators; designers; broker; facilitator; project managers; data gatherers; diplomats (makes things work in and between institutions); accountants; conscience; nurturer; loudhailer.
This requires time to develop trust; understand each others’ expertise, etc. so that these projects can do a different sort of work where  “The adventure of thought meets the adventure of action” (A.N Whitehead)
While their is strong legacy from these collaborations, this legacy is precarious due to key staff being junior staff and in precarious employment. This is linked to the funding environment. Short-term project funding can disturb the work of small organisations as well as disturb personal relationships. Also, the funding requires working with HEI systems that are not fit for working with smaller and precarious partner organisations. These negative effects are exacerbated by trends in HE towards marketisation
We cannot state whether such projects will democratise knowledge production as that depends on many other variables. Similarly, the idea that co-production leads to better research – well, its another set of methods but collaboration can, if done mindfully, lead to better quality research in terms of needs of all of those involved.
Recommendations from the research (from the report):
  1. improve the infrastructure
  2. recognise the need for time for collaboration
  3. explicitly address the risk of enhancing inequalities
  4. invest in and support civic society’s public learning infrastructure.

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