Valuing interdisciplinary collaborative research, ed. by Keri Facer and Kate Pahl (Bristol: The Policy Press, 2017), 272 pp. Available in hardback, paperback, and electronic formats.
Increasingly, universities are being asked to work with communities in more inclusive, collaborative and ethical ways, but there is still a lack of literature that describes these processes and practices, particularly within the arts and humanities. Valuing Collaborative Interdisciplinary Research does this by bringing together a number of research projects that looked specifically at the legacy of the Connected Communities (CC) programme. Headed up by the AHRC but cross-research council, the CC programme has funded over 300 projects, worked with over 500 collaborating organisations and worked with over 700 academics from universities across the UK, on topics ranging from festivals to community food, from everyday creativity to care homes, from hyper local journalism to community energy.
The diversity and richness of the programme is represented by the chapters in this book. They range from an account of community evaluation, to a discussion of how community values play out in collaborative research, to a focus on how should decisions on heritage be made, and on what artists do when they work with academics and communities together with the role of performance in highlighting community concerns. All of the chapters were multi authored and reflected the different voices of the project teams. One of the chapters in this book has 23 authors – ranging from people from the Heritage Lottery Fund and The Science museum to people working within communities as well as within universities.
Themes such as translation, co-production, dialogic modes of research and tacit and embodied knowledge surface from these chapters. The nature of knowledge – its production practices – is a key theme. Ways of capturing everyday knowledge, through stories, through maps, through material objects, within conversations and performances, are frequently discussed and considered. University ways of knowing and doing are only one part of the research landscape. This means that new conceptual tools are needed to make sense of this.
In the final chapters of the book we attempted to map this new world out. We came up with a set of helpful ideas and ways forward to articulate what you need if you are going to do this sort of work. We agreed that projects like this need to include an element of productive divergence. They are often grounded in the world materially and objects play a strong part in many projects. The projects often involve mess, uncertainty, complexity and a focus on practice. The work does involve translating across different fields, as well as stories as a mode of exchange. Many of the projects drew on tacit and embodied learning that were informed by arts methodologies as well as ideas from sensory and phenomenological perspectives.
This makes for a new and exciting research landscape. Our hope in writing this book was that the ‘impact’ agenda would shift to recognise the nature of ‘co-produced impact’. That is, impact isn’t just about academics doing brilliant, original research which is written up in articles and then re-produced in different forms to a grateful community who draws on this research. Instead, impact is co-created. People have ideas, in communities and in universities and we work on these together, bringing different knowledges and practices to those questions and ideas. This then produces a different kind of knowledge – richer, more diverse, more carefully located in real and everyday contexts and more relevant. Perhaps if this kind of research was funded more often, surprises like the recent election result wouldn’t have come as so much of a shock. Universities need to become more attuned to the voices of communities, to their accounts of what is important and necessary to research. The CC programme and this book makes a start in redressing the balance.