Reflections on the 2013 Summit


I’m writing this post on the way home from the Connected Communities Summit – head full from three days of rich conversations, challenging questions, good memories and ideas for the future. Some of the highlights for me were:

… seeing a boat , a participatory pavilion and a cabinet of curiosities take shape in the exhibition halls. And having a last chance to look at the beautiful and strange creatures from the Odd Numbers project before they are buried as a form of creating community archaeology.

… hearing over 30 young people from across the country with powerful insights into the realities of entering the UK as refugees, clearly and powerfully articulate their aspirations. They did this in a performance piece as part of a longer collaborative process of co-creating a research proposal with Tom Wakeford from Newcastle University.

… seeing the Early Career Researchers rapidly self-organise and set up a new twitter hashtag for sharing ideas #ecrconnect

…hearing that the Community Partner Network is going from strength to strength with plans for a Summit in the Autumn

… witnessing the beginnings of what I hope will be a longer and richer debate between Angie Hart (Brighton/Imagine Project) and Andrew Miles (Manchester/Everyday Participation Project) about the real value of co-production and how best to conduct research that really disrupts existing power relations. This feels to me like the beginning of an important conversation between two equally committed researchers with (I would guess) not hugely dissimilar analyses of contemporary society, but who have very different ideas about how research should contribute to tackling the profound inequities in society.  I’m hoping that these conversations will be carried on at the Autumn Symposium.

… listening to the jazz piece (Perdida? Charlie Parker? I’m sure George will be able to remind me) that Professor Mary Brydon-Miller from the University of Cincinnati used to exemplify how something powerful can come from an interplay between different players. Is this sort of rich but distinctive complementarity a useful metaphor for research that seeks to draw on the different assets of its collaborating teams?

…hearing Steve Poole (Sheffield, ‘significant other’, artist) quoting Mrs Merton and then challenging to programme participants to move from asking ‘so what?’ to asking ‘what next?’

…realising that there are a whole host of different approaches to ‘asset mapping’ that are developing within the programme, and working out that this is somewhere this programme might be able to make a big contribution. There are teams asking very interesting questions about ‘what counts’ as assets within communities, and a whole range of different methodologies being employed to construct different accounts of community resources. The Everyday Participation project, for example, is exploring the interplay between ethnography, intervention and map based visualisations; while the Creative Citizens project has been drawing on Asset Based Community Development to develop asset mapping workshops with community organisations.

There were other, humbling moments. Amidst the celebration of the huge proliferation of interesting projects that the programme provides ample evidence for, there are small, personal realisations of not having really thought some things through sufficiently and a real sense of needing to learn lessons from mistakes in an experimental programme.  I’m hoping that we will continue to learn from each other, keep challenging each other and move forward.

And so to the question – what next?

While I’ve come away with a lot to think about, including long-term challenges, I’m also really interested in quick things we can do tomorrow. And I’m thinking that the programme really needs a ‘biscuit fund’, as Jess Steele (Locality/ CC Advisory Board Member) suggested. If this huge number of projects (250+ and counting) are to begin to cross-fertilise ideas, challenge each other and develop maturity as a field, this can’t be dependent on a centralised model for ideas sharing or communications. Rather, we need to make it easy for self-organisation to emerge (alongside the traditional pots of funding that we all want to keep…).

So I’m wondering about some sort of biscuit fund (as well as the follow-on project funding that will be available at the end of the month).  If CC research teams don’t want to wait till next year to carry on their conversations with other CC projects, then make suggestions about the themes and focus for smaller/quicker events you might want to run – we may be able to provide some small budget for biscuits, lunch and train fares. Let us know…