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Community research – making change happen

Community groups are often the subject of research, but there is a growing body of work on communities doing their own high-quality research on their own needs and issues. This is usually done in conjunction with a university or college who can provide training and some support.

An April CEA ran a ‘networking and learning’ event – ‘Making Change Happen’ – for the Big Lottery-funded Big Local programme. We did this with Dr Sally Lloyd-Evans, a Professor in the Department of Geography and Environmental Science at Reading University. Sally and a team has worked closely with Whitley Big Local, training up the ‘Whitley Researchers’, a team of local volunteers. They have completed a detailed analysis of local transport problems and are now looking at financial exclusion issues. Other Big local areas also fed in their ideas and experiences. A report on the day – ‘Doing it ourselves’ is here.  Their excellent report on transport issues is here.

There was a lot of shared recognition of the benefits of research and work with universities. Good research reveals real needs, is user-focused and inclusive and helps with effective planning. It shows if and how we are making a difference. This may not be easy. Several problems were identified at the start:
• Communities and colleges / universities have different ways of working and may work at different speeds and time-scales;
• Both partners may have different expectations and wants from the work;
• There may be a lack of confidence, skills and capacity in a BL area when it comes to doing research, and academics may not have the skills or experience needed to train local people as researchers;
• It may not be clear who is ‘driving’ the work.
But the results make it very worthwhile. Local people acquire very useful skills and some of those involved are now keen for their children to go to university – an idea that had not been there before.

We’d be happy to discuss any similar ideas – contact Chris Church – chrischurch@cooptel.net

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