A collaborative project between community organisations and University of Bath researchers to undertake community-based participatory research.
Since being established in 2012 the Public Engagement Unit has worked to embed a positive culture of public engagement with research at the University of Bath. One of the ways we do this is by providing funding for researchers to carry out public engagement activities. A review in 2016 revealed a gap in community based engagement which led us to develop the Community Matters project.
Community Matters (2016-2018), developed in collaboration with South West Community Matters (formerly South West Foundation), aimed to create an opportunity for community-led engagement and test an approach to community-based participatory research. Five community organisations based in Bath and North East Somerset (B&NES) were partnered with academics to carry out a research project together that was of relevance and interest to them and their communities.
Community Matters ran for three years and involved asking local organisations to come forward with issues and problems they were facing. These organisations were paired with appropriate academics and together participated in a training programme we co-produced with South West Community Matters. This training supported community partners to increase their research skills and ability, and supported academics to enhance their knowledge and experience of community collaboration. Through a community-based participatory research process, these local organisations and their partner academics used the funding to address their questions. The projects included:
Wansdyke Play Association, who explored the impact that outdoor, outreach play services had on alleviating play deprivation across Somer Valley communities.
Triumph over Phobia, who explored how to encourage people with anxiety problems to seek help.
Black Families Education Support Group, who investigated the role supplementary schooling can play in narrowing the educational achievement gaps between different ethnic groups.
Creativity Works , who examined how peer-led creative arts interventions help people overcome anxiety and mental health challenges.
Transition Larkhall, who raised awareness of the impact of the school run in Larkhall.
The Community Matters Summary Report provides an overview of the programme.
What we learnt
Community Matters resulted in meaningful learning outcomes for both community and academic participants. Researchers developed their skills and knowledge in community-based participatory research and learnt about their own potential and place within communities across Bath and North East Somerset. Whilst community researchers used the experience to build on their skills and knowledge of research methods to enhance their evidence-based case for social change.
As a model of a community-academic collaboration driving social change, Community Matters demonstrated that community led research projects can be delivered in a robust manner and rapidly enough to deliver meaningful change for communities.
Other outcomes include; enhanced teaching and learning - the partnerships led to a number of undergraduate placement opportunities and projects with local organisations and community partners reported increased sense of confidence and empowerment as research producers - resulting in these organisations engaging hundreds of local people in data collection and dissemination processes.
Key learning points
From our evaluation of Community Matters we have identified several key learning points, based on our experience, that can help inform future community-led initiatives. These include:
Aim to foster longer-term community relationships, rather than short-term project-based collaborations. Provide a clear structure for everyone involved and work with community organisations to develop roles and responsibilities together.
Work with community organisations that can provide a brokering/gatekeeper role. We found this relationship vital to enhance and protect both the community and the university’s reputations.
If civic and local engagement is important to the university and they are committed to developing researchers’ skills and networks for working within communities then there needs to be:
- a clear understanding at the beginning of the process that impact from this work may take longer to demonstrate
- clearer communication about the importance of support and recognition at all levels within University departments (including from line managers)
The allocation of time for researchers to develop community partnership research and the funding of community researcher time sends strong signal that the university recognises and values this work.
University systems such as finance or procurement must not risk the viability of small community organisations that may be run by volunteers.
The objective of community research collaborations should be long term partnership that can contribute to rather than undermine community-wide capacity building.
There is no one size fits all approach community partnership research, work should be based on specific community context and the needs of community organisations within a region as well as the context and needs of academic researchers at different stages of their careers.
The Community Matters Evaluation Report provides a detailed outline of the learning from the programme.