Community Co-Investigators - A blog by Steve Pool

 

Community Co-Investigators

Steve Pool

I’ve now been working as a community Co-investigator on a Connected Communities project for eight months.  During this time I’ve started to think about how the role has impacted on the way I approach the work and the way I am perceived by my colleagues both at the university and outside.

A set of key questions have emerged.STEVE POOL  -pic for blog

  1. In what ways does the opportunity to work as a co-investigator impact on power relations within university-community-partnerships?
  2. Has the role of CO-I changed the way I can work with academics and how they perceive my knowledge and skills?
  3. In what ways can the pilot be rolled out to help Connected Communities projects better achieve their aims and objectives and impact on other funding streams?

I’ve just returned from a trip to Glasgow as part of our research for the Artists- legacy the studio project.  Our team is exploring the different roles that artists have played across the connected communities program.  I was in Glasgow to interview Nicola (http://www.nadfly.com/) Atkinson about the “odd numbers” project.  Sat across the table from her I introduced myself as a Co-Investigator on the project, I think this was probably the first time I had unconsciously adopted the title.

Later that day I stood with my friend Graham and looked at the ruins of the Glasgow school of art.  Graham told me of watching the building burn, how the fire brigade had knocked a hole in the roof to create a strong draw, pulling the fire away to save half the building, in turn the library became a kiln; books burnt at temperatures well past Fahrenheit 451.  I was surprised how emotional I felt walking past the building. We talked of the positives, the chance to rediscover crafts, to remake the building in a way that renews its original vision.   At the back of my mind however was more allegorical thinking about the relationship between the building that was saved, the building that burnt and the hole in the roof that drew the flames.

Community Co-investigators have been piloted through the connected communities Legacy program there are eight of us working across four projects The aim of the scheme is to address concerns around the inevitable power imbalances that emerge through community university partnership working.  Though I had previously worked on eight CC projects and numerous other research projects as a visual artist I had not taken much notice of the Universities structures and hierarchies.  Although interested in what becoming a community Co-I would change in my relationship to projects, I would describe the situation to others as similar to a promotion in rank from private to sergeant but not actually being in the army.  I was concerned that by fitting into the structures of the university project it would become more difficult to straddle them.

Eight months into the project and I’m still not sure of the impact of my new role on the way I feel about the work.  Like many hats we can put on and take off it has on occasion been very useful.  I am in a privileged position of always feeling respected by my University based co-workers, my ideas are valued, my voice is listened to.  As a Co-I on this project as well as an artist I have felt empowered as on occasion it has been valuable to leave my artist hat at home.  When it comes to power and status however I think as a program we have more work to do. I am interested in the potential of the co-production of research to level the ground, to form foundations where people can build new knowledge together. In the meantime perhaps as they are doing at the Glasgow school of art a scaffold to hold the walls up and a temporary roof to keep out the rain is the most sensible option until we work out what to do next.