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UCL Public Engagement Blog



Partnerships on your doorstep: working meaningfully together

By Lizzy Baddeley, on 8 December 2017

How do we connect with communities around us, and how do we maintain those relationships? On the 29th November the Public Engagement Unit hosted a Public Engagement Network meeting on community partnerships. We had really excellent and lively discussions around the benefits, challenges and best practice associated with doing this kind of work, which we have tried to outline below.

Irene Peterson, professor of epidemiology and public health, spoke about her experiences of planning her recently funded beacon bursary project. Irene has partnered with the Bromley-by-Bow centre , a community organisation in east London, to run her project focused on co-designing a ‘drug safety’ toolbox with woman who are pregnant and taking psychotropic medication.

Bromley by bow centre logoThe centre has connections to multiple GP surgeries around the area and already runs advice sessions for patients at these surgeries. The aim is to enable women to make informed decisions around taking psychotropic medication during pregnancy, and to create a tool that matches their needs.

Tadhg Caffrey from the PEU shared some invaluable top tips with us, which came from his experience of running an event in community centres in east London, compared to running the same event at pubs and bars in Bloomsbury. He talked about how important and valuable it is for us (as members of such a large institution) to go beyond what we are familiar with – and how going outside of our comfort zone can lead to interesting and fruitful interactions.

Tadhg spoke about the importance of planning (leaving enough time to foster a productive partnerships), understanding the aims and expectations of your partner, and the importance of being flexible. Tadhg also mentioned the importance of trusting your partner’s expertise and having an equal balance of power and control in partnerships.

Group meeting in Bromley by Bow Centre cafe

Preparing for one of the events at the Bromley by bow centre

Charlotte Barrow from the Engineering Exchange reflected on some of the projects they have facilitated between researchers at UCL and community organisations around London. Charlotte talked about the importance of managing the expectations of project partners, and how creating a protocol (including a project brief with clear objectives) for both parties involved can aid this.

This was a top tip echoed by Robin Brown, CEO of the collective Just Space, who spoke about the importance of a code of practice for researchers and community organisations, covering a set of ground rules. Finally, Robin mentioned how important it was to consider the needs and desires of your community organisation, as a partnership will only work if both parties have something to gain.

Map of London community spaces under threat

justMap created by Just Space

During the Q+A session, one concern of the audience was about how we locate a local community organisation. Robin spoke about the mapping of community organisations, something that Just Space are currently doing, and can be found on their justMap blog.

John Braime, manager of the Volunteering Service, spoke about the science shop model, and talked about experiences of brokerage and facilitation of partnerships with community organisations.

One common theme that arose from these talks was how many fruitful outcomes came about serendipitously- especially with regards to initially forming partnerships- and this was a concern amongst much of the audience.

How can we foster beneficial partnerships when the circumstances that might lead to this are out of our control? John suggested that one way to have some level of agency in this is to create a space where those outcomes are possible; something the Public Engagement Unit and Volunteering services have tried to emulate at our Creating Connections events.

If you missed this meeting, and want advice about partnerships that could enhance your public engagement (and as a result, your research or teaching), please do contact us at the Public Engagement Unit, as well as any of the speakers above.

UCL Public Engagement Network sessions bring together all kinds of people who are interested in public engagement: whether you’re an old hand or a complete novice please bring your experience and questions to what we hope will be lively, thought-provoking and participatory sessions.


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