New AHRC funded research at CCI
Dr Dave O’Brien is part of two new Connected Communities projects that are starting this Spring. The first project explores Early Career Researchers on Connected Communities, the second looks at differing evaluation methods. The abstracts for both are below and more details will follow as the projects get underway. The first meeting for the project team on Connecting Epistemologies is Friday 14th Feb, which will be very exciting!
AH/L013088/1 Connecting Epistemologies: Methods and Early Career Researchers in the Connected Communities Programme
The Connected Communities (CC) programme has been designed to be methodologically eclectic, reflecting both the range of approaches found in the various disciplines constituting the arts and humanities, as well as the cross-research council basis for the funded projects. Methodological eclecticism can be an obvious strength, offering the possibility of synthesising a range of approaches, generating diverse forms of data and answering complex questions which cut across traditional academic disciplines. However, there are risks with this approach, risks which are grounded in the uneven distribution of power and expertise within academic research projects. This research will explore these risks in two ways, in co-operation with a specific community: Early Career Researchers (ECRs). The project will run a series of events that will involve ECRs in the research process looking at differing methodological approaches within Connected Communities. It will also gather data on the ECR experience, via a mentoring scheme.
Connecting Epistemologies will begin with an event that will showcase and develop ECR understanding of research methods for doing community research. It will then run a targeted mentoring and data collection programme over the course of four months. Finally it will run a workshop with the participants and the research team to prepare materials for a final event. The final event will be targeted across the range of academic disciplines involved in community research, which will present the findings from the data collection phase as well as papers offering further reflections on the methodological challenges facing community research.
ECRs are a community defined and created by the funding council, giving the research a clearly bounded group to work with that has three important characteristics. 1) They are quasi-elite community (skilled but peripheral and precarious). Elite communities have not been made a substantive focus of the CC and this project would contribute to the gap in the CC work. 2) ECRs are a community with specific needs who would potentially benefit from the follow on funding to understand their role and position within the CC programme 3) ECRs working on CC projects are often at the front line of trying to navigate different disciplinary logics with community collaboration.
The peripheral but elite nature of the ECR community creates an opportunity to explore and to challenge the assumptions underpinning the Connected Communities programme. The programme was designed to be collaborative. This project will raise questions about collaboration, as it focuses on an elite community who are embedded in methodological traditions that give greater or lesser status to collaboration. The project, when asking what the methodological circumstances necessary for collaboration might be, can also ask when collaboration begins and ends. In particular it will raise questions of power and control over data and lived experiences. How do lived experiences become data? How can these be presented? Who has control over them?
These questions are explored by understanding the lived experiences of the ECR community, by the recruitment of 10 ECRs. They will be recruited by an event that seeks to raise awareness of the range of methodological possibilities associated with community research, but also to challenge the Connected Communities programme’s assumptions that these may all be complimentary. The recruitment will be driven by the work of the community partner and members of the project team who have focused on participatory and collaborative research methods.
The project begins on 1/2/2014 and will run for 9 months. The project grant is £38,000, with £5117 for Dr O’Brien’s role as principal investigator
AH/L01310X/1 Valuing Different Perspectives – evaluation and evaluative knowled
The central aim of the Connected Communities programme has been to carry out research with communities, not on communities. The AHRC are now keen to understand what the legacy of this investment in research with communities has been. The ambitious and complex nature of the resulting projects means there are significant challenges for attempts to evaluate legacy and whether they will be successful. The aim of this research will be to explore different approaches to evaluating projects and produce guidelines for future Connected Communities and similar projects. This will be carried out by delivering two evaluations of the same projects. One evaluation will be participatory, led by community partners; one will be academic-led.
Academic- or expert-led evaluations, such as those common in the social sciences, provide many ways to find out “what works” or provides value-for-money – randomised controlled trials; large scale surveys; cost-benefit analysis; theories of change; realist evaluation etc. Such evaluations may involve the use of quantitative or qualitative methods that are defined, created, and analysed by academic researchers, often regarded as experts, but who may be removed from the communities themselves which have been subject to a policy or project. Importantly, the evaluation criteria are also set by the academic research team, typically before the research project has begun. The evaluator has the power to define whether something has been a “success” or “failure” which can have a long-lasting impact.
In comparison, evaluations that are shaped and led by the community members at the heart of the projects are now increasingly used to assess the success and legacy of initiatives. These aim to capture the “local knowledge” of implementation and what was of value to the communities themselves. They respond to a concern that many of the softer outcomes of projects, that are often difficult to quantitatively measure, are not captured or even devalued by expert-led evaluations. Participatory evaluations aim to give communities the power to define “success” or “failure”. This project, and the simultaneous evaluations at the heart of it, aims to explore these questions of power in the production of knowledge by asking what happens when community partners lead an evaluation and academics lead an evaluation of the same project. Are the research outputs produced different? And why might this be the case?
To answer these questions, the project will run workshops to supplement the evaluations. Attended by community members and academics, the first will discuss the processes, commonalities, differences, values and limitations of the various evaluation approaches chosen. The second workshop will develop a series of evaluation guidelines suited for future community-based research. Rather than being a “toolkit”, this will be an exploration of the different methods used in the different contexts and what worked, or did not work, and why. This will enable future projects to make better informed decisions as to what evaluation methods they might use when planning community projects.
We cannot be prescriptive about the evaluation questions the community-led evaluation will ask. The academic evaluation will go back to original project briefs and align the original aims with the methods that the research team can use to ask whether the project has delivered what it set out to. The project also aims to explore the broader legacy of the Connected Communities programme. A key question in both evaluation sites will be the role of the AHRC as a funder of this type of activity and how this can be improved in future.
The project begins on 1/3/2014 and will run for 9 months. The project grant is £99,968 with Dr O’Brien’s role attracting £2554. Dr Peter Matthews, from Herriot Watt Universityis the principal investigator. Dr O’Brien will be be responsible for fieldwork interviews with policy makers, providing expertise and disseminating the research
If you’d like to know more about any of these projects please contact Dr Dave O’Brien firstname.lastname@example.org