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.