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Investigating the culture of participatory research at the University of Bath.



Project status

In progress


Project started on 1 Feb 2022

People seated around a table chatting and writing down their ideas on a large piece of paper
Researchers and public participants discussing research ideas

ParticipatoryResearch@Bath will investigate what the culture of research with/by/for people looks like at the University of Bath and propose how to create and enhance the conditions for involving people in research in meaningful ways.

ParticipatoryResearch@Bath is funded through the Research England's Participatory Research funding allocation.

Defining participatory research

Participatory research is often used as an umbrella term and encompasses a number of different practices. For this project, we are keeping our definition broad. For us, it is an approach to research that is collaborative, where people whose lives are affected by the issues being researched are equal partners in designing, undertaking, and disseminating research to bring about social change.

It is research that activitely and meaningfully involves citizens and public groups.

A participatory research approach is not restricted to any one particular discipline, what it looks like in practice will be different for different disciplines. It could be engineers working with patients to involve them in the research and development of medical devices or it could be young people in the care system working with academics to carry out research of their experiences.

It is research with/by/for people.

Our approach

ParticipatoryResearch@Bath will be led by the Public Engagement Unit and our approach will build on a decade's worth of experience undertaking culture change work - (Engaged360@Bath and ChallengeCPD@Bath) - and our experience delivering the Community Matters community-based participatory research project. We will draw on this expertise and embed in the delivery of ParticipatoryResearch@Bath the desire to create sustained and sustainable change in the systems we have influence over at the University.

Phase one (March to August 2022)

During phase one of the project, we worked to investigate the culture of participatory research at the University and work with researchers and communities to better understand the barriers and enablers of involving people in research. An outline of our approach to this first phase is detailed on the Introducing ParticipatoryResearch@Bath blog.

Over the course of the six months of the first phase of the project, we:

What we found out

This first phase told us lots of rich details about participatory research activities at the University. There are four headline findings from this work: 

  • A participatory research approach, as a mindset towards research, is not consistently defined and not used equally across disciplines.

  • There was a significant and wide acceptance from researchers, from a wide range of different disciplines at the University, that involving people in the research process can be an important feature of high-quality and meaningful work.  

  • Researchers told us they need greater institutional support to enable them to work effectively with citizens in their research.

  • Communities and public groups told us that there were limited access points to the University and as an outsider, their view and perception of the University are often limited by that experience.

Whilst these findings were unsurprising there were three findings that felt more novel and emergent for both us at the University and the across the sector:

  • There is a high degree of emotional labour involved in those research projects that are authentically participatory yet the support structures for those involved felt underdeveloped.

  • How citizens can/should be embedded in the broader research ecosystem is not well understood.

  • If participating in research is viewed as something different to ‘work’ then other ways to reward and recognise citizen contributions should be developed.

Phase two (December 2022 to July 2024)

Two white adults, one male and one female and a white male child taking part in a research activity
People and researchers working together on a research activity.

During this project phase, we aim to scope out ways of working to create and enhance the conditions for involving people effectively and equitably in research.

We will test several programmes and initiatives that respond directly to the insight from community groups and researchers that emerged during phase one and investigate some of the emergent ideas further.

We will do this by:

  • Delivering a programme of activities for researchers to support them in developing their capacities and capabilities for carrying out participatory approaches to research. This will include offering training and professional development opportunities and running a seed fund grant scheme.

  • Developing and delivering initiatives and programmes with/by/for communities to build relationships and better understand their needs to develop our knowledge of how engaging with our research can support their work.

  • Investigating the emotional labour of researchers and citizens contributing to participatory research projects and piloting approaches to support people's welfare and wellbeing.

  • Carrying out an action research project to explore the features of embedding participatory approaches across the wider research system.

The phase two project plan of ParticipatoryResearch@Bath outlines more details of the approach and activities that will be delivered as part of the project.

ParticipatoryResearch@Bath blogs

Discover some of our thinking and learning on participatory research from the project.

Funding body

ParticipatoryResearch@Bath was funded by Research England.


If you are interested in finding out more about ParticipatoryResearch@Bath, drop us a line.