Key Questions for Researchers and Communities
Tips & Tricks
Here are some useful tips and tricks for researchers and community members when considering embarking on co-produced projects, which were produced by Sharon Irish (University of Illinois: Champaign-Urbana and Benjamin Meaker Visiting Fellow, University of Bristol).
Here are some questions that you might wish to consider across the various stages of the lifecyle of your projects, from the first glimmer of an idea through to project design, implementation and evaluation. We’ve linked these to the different sections of the toolkit.
- You are a university-based researcher and have an idea about heritage and mapping that you’d like to explore with a community organisation, but how do you begin? Do you work regularly with community partners or are you thinking about starting a relationship with a new partner? The answer will help guide your approach. Consider what you can offer and what your expectations of partnership might be. Be realistic about what you bring to the table. Ask lots of questions. Listen! You might wish to consider questions around ethics and finance as starting points.
- You are an individual or community organisation and have an idea about heritage and mapping that you’d like to explore with university researchers, but how do you begin? Do you work regularly with university researchers or are you thinking about trying to find a way in to access university research resource and you don’t know where to go? The answer will help guide your approach. If you are new to working with universities, try contacting their community engagement offices. You might also want to have a look at departmental websites to see who’s working in areas that are of interest to you and/or your organisation. Get in touch! Consider what you can offer and what your expectations of partnership with a university might be. Be realistic about what you bring to the table. Be honest about what you’re requesting from the university. Ask lots of questions. Be patient if the academics don’t always have the answers. You might wish to consider questions around ethics and finance as starting points.
- How do you build trust with new partners?
- What do you need to do to nurture existing relationships? If you are an academic? A community member?
- How important are the terms and conditions of working together? It’s really important for community organisations to try to understand that university researchers teach, administer and do research. When the students are away and there’s no teaching, academics spend that non-teaching time doing a range of research activities and administrative duties. Academics are multi-taskers and juggle many different projects and responsibilities. Also, because academics work in large organisations, decision-making and action are not always quick. Budgets are very tight and universities do not tend to have funding sources available to tap into. Academics and community partners need to be honest about managing their own and others’ expectations and capacities.
- What is a research question? If a university-community partnership project involves external funding from higher education, it is likely that the project will need to be designed around what’s known as the ‘research question’. UK Higher Education defines research as: ‘a process of investigation leading to new insights, effectively shared’ and this can include work in a number of different formats (REF, 2011, Assessment Framework and Guidance on Submissions, Annex C). Great research comes from clear and specific research questions. Duke University’s Writing Centre has produced this clear guide for students, which is relevant for anyone wanting to do research. Questions that focus on ‘whats’ won’t be as significant or relevant as questions that encourage you to think about why something might be so and how it came to be. Does your research question cover all the bases: who, what, where, when, why and how?
- What is co-production and how can this change the way that you work?
- What kinds of methods are best-suited to your communities? Walking, events, workshops, festivals, small-group discussions, visual methods?
- What are values-based ethics?
- How do you evaluate your project?
- How do you know if your project has changed anything?
- What do you do at the end of a relationship and/or when the project funding runs out? This might be something you wish to address at the very start of your conversations together. What sources of funding are there available from a wide range of sources, some of which only community partners may be able to access? What are the capacity issues for both the community partner and the university should the project carry on? If you decide, collectively, to move on to other projects, think about the kind of event you’d like to collaborate on to mark the closure of the existing project.
- What are some other good examples of participatory mapping projects and toolkits?