Community-University Research Engagement: How Can We Do It Better?
Following a recent workshop, Dr Julie Norman asks how can university researchers and community partners better collaborate to deliver high-impact research, especially in communities affected by conflict or social divisions?
This question was the starting point of ‘Community-University Engagement in Divided Societies,’ a workshop held at Queen’s University on 17 February 2017 via the Senator George J. Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security, and Justice, supported by a British Academy Rising Star Engagement Award (BARSEA).
The workshop brought together early career researchers and members of community organisations in two main sessions. The first session, a panel on ‘Community-University Collaboration: How Can We Do It Better?’ featuring community leaders from the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action (NICVA), Cooperation Ireland, and the NI Law Centre, as well as QUB student leaders, generated critical but constructive discussion on the need for more sustained, quality collaboration between academic researchers and community partners.
There was a general consensus that relationship-building is key to collaborative research, and an agreement that community partners should be involved at all stages of the research, not just for the mining of data or for a one-off impact activity. At the same time, early career researchers noted that academic output pressures and funding demands can hinder collaborative research, suggesting a need for further discussion on how to balance academic rigour with knowledge production that is accessible and relevant to community partners.
The second part of the workshop explored ‘Practical Steps for Meaningful Collaboration,’ centered on the launch of a set of ‘Guidelines for Good Practice’ for university researchers working in partnership with community organisations. Developed by a university-community working group led by Dr Cathal McManus (Education) and Dr Katy Hayward (Social Work), the guidelines offer steps for meaningful engagement at each stage of research, from preparation to conduct to follow-up. The guidelines have been adopted by QUB’s Research Policy Office and will soon be available on the Research and Enterprise website.
The second session also included a discussion with Emma McKenna of QUB’s Science Shop, which works across all university faculties to link academic researchers and students with demonstrated research needs from community organisations. Matt O’Neill, a PGR student who assisted with the development of the workshop, also introduced a Slack group as an online platform to continue to share resources and continue the conversations started at the workshop.
The February workshop was a follow-up to an August event on university-community research collaboration, which included insights from members of Corrymeela, a local cross-community organization, and youth leaders from Sadaka Reut, a cross-community group of Israelis and Palestinian from Jaffa.
Both events generated substantial interest from both early career researchers and community members, demonstrating an interest and a need for more sustained collaboration, and a recognition of the university as part of the community rather than something distinct from it.