East Engagement Network: exploring collaboration and knowledge exchange in east London
Last week (27th February) we had the latest instalment of the East Engagement Network meetings (EEN). The East Engagement Network is growing forum for staff and students involved in the UCL East project, and those who are under-taking or interested in engagement work in east London. The network meetings are designed to create a space to share successes and learning from those undertaking engagement work, as well as share information about the wealth of projects that are happening. They are designed to start creating a forum for people to share and learn about best practice as well as meet others working in the same area. They are a key component of the work of the Community Engagement Team( East) and are something that we are looking to grow and develop over the coming years.
This meeting was themed around the topic of ‘Collaboration and Knowledge Exchange’ and was particularly looking at work with partners who do not typically engage with the institution.
First up, we heard from Dr. Anne Laybourne. Anne has a split role at UCL she works part time as the Study Manager for the UCL Psychiatry MARQUE project, which aims to increase knowledge about dementia, agitation and person-hood. She has also taken on a new role with UCL Student’s Union Volunteering Service as the Project Manager for the Community Research Initiative for Students (CRIS) which looks to connect Postgraduate Taught Students with community partners around their dissertation projects. Anne, a recent Beacon Bursary project lead, spoke briefly about her history with public engagement and her recent Beacon Bursary and then moved on to talk about CRIS, which she introduced as ‘tinder for dissertations’. CRIS connects not-for-profit organisations that work with the Union’s Volunteering Service with academic staff and Masters Students who are keen to research a community need in the capital. Anne is looking for course leaders who are keen to connect with her around this project, particularly those who are at the point of course design. In her exploratory conversations about the project she highlighted some of the challenges around embedding knowledge exchange. She commented on the fact that many of the students she discussed the project with were keen on the idea, but struggled with the concept of ‘exchange’ and found it hard to envisage what might ‘come back’ from a community partner. She highlighted the challenges in negotiating the cultures in both academia and the Voluntary Community Sector which are very different, and that this relationship making takes time which needs to be created and accounted for. One way in which this can manifest is that often the community partners have a ‘shared identity’ or feel part of a wider sector, whereas the academics are often very individualised. Anne acknowledged the need to tell students it is ok not to have all the answers from the outset and that the ‘certainties of academia’ aren’t always helpful in working collaboratively. Anne ended by talking about how enriching the experience of working with community partners is both personally and academically, and that the time taken to explore this process is something that is necessary and worthwhile.
Anne shared her hopes that the CRIS programme would act as important spoke of the engagement work in east London. If any students or academics are interested in partnering or participating in the CRIS programme they should email Anne for more information.
Following on from this Lizzy Baddeley, Community Engagement Project Manager for the Trellis programme, gave an update on the progress of the project. Lizzy, part of the Community Engagement Team, is delivering a programme of work exploring how knowledge exchange activity between universities and communities can maximise impact for both partners, and how these partnerships can be best supported to flourish. Lizzy gave a brief introduction to the funding for the programme (from the EPSRC Innovation Acceleration Account) and how typically this is used to explore relationships in the business sector, whereas we are taking the approach to use this to work with community partners, particularly those who are less often heard at UCL. She spoke of the three prongs of the programme:
Trellis Art: a range of activities to connect UCL researchers with local east London artists. She announced the news that we have funded 9 initial researcher-artist partnerships of which 4 will secure ongoing funding to display their collaborative output in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in October 2019. She showed the short film below to explain the process trialled as part of this activity:
Community University Partnership Building Events: funding has been made available as part of the project for EPSRC funded researchers to apply to deliver themed events which start of develop relationships with east London communities, individuals or local organisation. The event funding, which is currently open with a rolling deadline is looking for events which will explore areas of mutual interest and build towards ideas for future collaborative work. Lizzy asked that network members sign-post those who are interested to her and asked them to email for more information.
Training in knowledge exchange and community engagement: Lizzy talked about the intention to develop a programme of online training which would underpin the activity of her programme, and which would leave a legacy beyond it. In order to build capacity at UCL for researchers to participate in community engagement and knowledge exchange, this will work to expand and digitise the training offer which currently exists as part of the UCL Engagement Team. This work is still in development but it is expected that the themes for the training will be:
- Introduction to public and community engagement and knowledge exchange
- Public engagement as part of your research grant
- Practical skills for community and public engagement
- Evaluating the impact of engagement and knowledge exchange
So far, she detailed her key challenge when talking to potential partners has been asking them to think about the ‘exchange’ part of the activity. Whilst each partner knew what they wanted, whether internal or external to UCL they both struggled to ‘work out what the other side want’ and so Lizzy’s work has been to try and help facilitate opportunities for people to come together and explore this.
Last, but certainly not least, we heard from Dr. Edwina Prayogo an UCL alumnus now Impact Manager for Newham homeless charity Caritas Anchor House. Edwina introduced her session by giving a whistle-stop tour of her engagement work whilst at university which saw her work with Food Bank organisation Trussel Trust to feed into research which was looking into why people ended up using foodbanks. Edwina outlined some of the key points she felt were fundamental to successful collaborative projects. At university she was supported by funding from Grand Challenges and recognised the importance of this as it created space for her to work more deeply with partner organisations, in what is often an unpopular cause. It was also here that she developed her understanding of the importance of involving external communities in the co-design of research studies and which for her resulted in greater cooperation and better recruitment to her study. She highlighted the sense of ownership and buy-in that this generates as people feel it is theirs. The results of her study led to certain types of food being removed from the food parcels used.
She spoke of the ‘paywall of research’ and how often what comes out of projects feels hidden and not transparent to project partners. Thinking through methods of dissemination which are equally accessible is vital, she wrote blogs and shared reports with partner contacts. This more open method of dissemination often means much more reach for your work and ‘not the usual suspects’ engaging with your work. Edwina candidly outlined her changing perspective in student placements, moving from a student herself trying to find a community partner ‘at the last minute’ to understanding the burden that this can put on an organisation, she put out a plea for those wanting to work with a community partner to think through the timeline and contact them as early as possible, so they are best able to manage their limited resources. She had never thought about needing a DBS check before working with community partners herself. She advised creating time for both partners to be clear on their expectations, what they can commit to any partnership and what they are looking to get out of it. Finally, and perhaps fittingly as an Impact Manager, she asked network members to think about their evaluation, building this in at the beginning and reflecting upon their work and their partnership.
After questions attendees broke into groups to have a round-table discussions about the challenges and opportunities for knowledge exchange and collaboration with community partners. There were several exciting suggestions within the ‘opportunities’ side including encouraging opportunities to celebrate the collaborative work that has been undertaken, using Microsoft Teams to better improve internal communication, and questions around exploring how to recognise the time spent undertaking engagement work. Food for thought for the community engagement team, so watch this space. You can read the thoughts by downloading the session notes below.
Round Table Discussion Notes (WORD)
If you would like to joing the East Engagement Network, or hear about upcoming events email mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org