The Benefits of Collaborative Research
As anyone working in public policy will be aware, community organisations often wish to generate high-quality research, yet lack the necessary resources and expertise to do so. Elsewhere, postgraduate students are eager to conduct research which has relevance and impact beyond academia. Recognising the potential to support both parties in their aims, in 2015 the University of Glasgow and What Works Scotland established the Collaborative Dissertation programme. Working directly with Glasgow Community Planning Partnership's Thriving Places initiative, the programme offers organisations access to academically rigorous, supervised research which can be used to inform future work, while allowing interested students to maximise their research impact. The Thriving Places approach focuses on increasing community connections and capacities, ultimately aiming to improve outcomes for people living in the areas of highest multiple deprivation in Glasgow. In order to understand life in these communities and generate evidence of what works, good quality research is of vital importance.
"The research produced in the past three years has been of a very high quality and the data collected by students continues to help demonstrate the positive impact of our Thriving Places approach in Parkhead, Damlarnock and Camlachie. As well as adding robust research findings to our evidence base, the learning gained has helped inform our practice moving forward by capturing the honest thoughts and opinions of local people and partners on a number of issues in the community. The new relationships which have been cultivated have also increased social capital, for both students and local people. Most of the students we have welcomed are from outside Scotland, let alone the East End of Glasgow. This has led to new and insightful conversations for everyone, increasing appreciation and understanding of different cultures. Exposure to different people from different backgrounds and places broadens all of our horizons and can only have a positive impact both individually and collectively."
Robert Doyle, Community Worker, Thriving Places Parkhead, Dalmarnock and Camlachie
"Collaborative dissertations allow students to apply their academic learning and develop those critical transferable skills every employer is looking for – communication skills, team-working, etc. They are a great way to enhance the experience of our students and to help businesses and organisations in the wider community.”
Emma Smith, Work-Related Learning Co-ordinator, University of Glasgow
This year, three EPPE Network Members collaborated with Thriving Places projects to produce their Masters dissertations. Over the coming months we will be publishing the results of their research, but first we offer a brief introduction to their work so far.
ELLEN VANDERHOVEN - BRIDGETON FAMILY MEAL AND HOMEWORK CLUB
Ellen conducted research with Bridgeton FMHC, a weekly education and cookery club run by Thriving Places in the East End of Glasgow. Motivated by a desire to help the project run smoothly and sustainably, Ellen conducted an investigation of multi-agency working practices, exploring recent changes to the partnership structure in detail. In her lay report, Ellen outlines recommendations for the future configuration of the partnership, particularly focusing on the positive potential of informal working practices for generating genuinely innovative and adaptive approaches to community development. In her full academic dissertation she also develops a focus on applied social theory, arguing for the relevance of Habermas's theory of lifeworld colonisation when analysing multi-agency contexts before suggesting refinements to the concept using the work of Michael Lipsky and Ulrich Beck.
"Conducting a collaborative dissertation has been the most rewarding element of my Masters study. Working in an active education environment to generate conclusions that are original and ambitious in their scope, yet grounded in reality, has been a challenging but worthwhile experience. Knowing that I have made a useful contribution to the future of an incredible project and community is a really positive feeling."
ESOMCHI AGALAMANYI - BRIDGETON FAMILY MEAL AND HOMEWORK CLUB
Esomchi also worked with Bridgeton FMHC, focusing on the potential for community members to build and mobilise stocks of social capital in order to advocate for shared local interests. In his upcoming lay report, Esomchi outlines how community members have been able to develop their confidence levels, improve their employability and make friends through participation in Bridgeton FMHC. The presence of bonding social capital - the link between like-minded people that encourages the development of strong ties - has enabled participants to develop a sense of community as well as trust and reciprocity, in turn supporting participants as they champion issues affecting their community. In particular, his research highlights the importance of organically-formed social capital in the development of active citizenship.
"Personally I found completing a collaborative dissertation very worthwhile. The experience allowed me to fully immerse myself in the community, understand the approach adopted in tackling disadvantage as it relates to those communities and to qualitatively appreciate the impact the intervention has had on their lives."
SHEILA CROWELL - VARIOUS PARTNERS
Sheila conducted research with a number of third sector organisations involved in implementing the New Scots Refugee Integration Strategy. Interested in the process of transforming an abstract integration framework into practice, Sheila examined differing definitions and structural approaches to integration among diverse practitioners. In particular, her research focuses on inequitable integration outcomes for female refugees and asylum seekers, examining explanations and solutions offered by those working in the field. In her forthcoming lay report, she recommends the development of feedback channels for soliciting practitioner experiences of integration policy implementation, alongside the modification of integration policies to acknowledge the specific needs of female refugees and asylum seekers. She also calls for further research in order to understand long-term impacts of integration efforts within the Glasgow context.
"I was particularly interested in conducting this kind of research because I wanted to develop more on-the-ground research capabilities that might translate into future professional experiences. I personally felt it was a great opportunity to understand different organizations and career opportunities within community development and non-formal education."
If you have further questions for Ellen, Esomchi or Sheila, please get in touch via their individual member profiles. Otherwise, look out for their lay reports which will be published on the website in the coming months.