Funding for change: investing in collaboration with communities

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We are announcing a £4 million investment in equitable and sustainable models of community engagement in research and knowledge production.

Over the next five years, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) is investing over £4 million in the development of a series of community research networks.

The networks will be designed by community groups and partnerships outside of the current research and innovation system. These networks will support organisations to develop the capacity, capability and collaborations required to support research produced in collaboration with communities.

Transforming tomorrow together

This investment links directly to the new UKRI strategy, ‘transforming tomorrow, together’, which sets out a vision where research and innovation are at the heart of society. It emphasises the importance of an open, diverse, collaborative and connected system of people, ideas and institutions.

The strategy emphasises UKRI’s role is not just to fund research, but to use its resources and influence to nurture cultures, connect institutions and create opportunities and platforms that span boundaries.

The strategy recognises that everyone in the UK has a stake in research and innovation. And that there is a need to build effective collaboration and genuine partnership with a much wider range of people.

An exciting mandate for change

For those of us working to break down the barriers between research and wider society, this emphasis is welcome. It sets a high bar and an exciting mandate for changing how we fund public engagement and who leads it.

We recognise that achieving this vision requires new approaches that are sensitive to groups who have, to date, not had access to or agency in the research and innovation system. We are excited to announce one such approach today.

In the last few years, UKRI has developed programmes, invested in projects, and gathered evidence to support new forms of public engagement. Most importantly, we have listened to and learnt from different groups across the UK to understand whether communities want to play a more active role in the research and innovation system; and, if so, how they might want that to happen.

We’ve seen that the UK has a rich mix of charities, community organisations, local authorities and collectives who are already working on research with local communities. But this system is disconnected from, and has been undervalued by, the formal research and innovation system.

Traditional approaches to funding community involvement in research, which have largely been short-term projects where communities play limited roles and cannot set the agenda, have done little to change this picture.

More sustainable and equitable

In October 2021, UKRI commissioned The Young Foundation to undertake research to investigate new forms of investment. Investments that might pave the way for more sustainable and equitable forms of collaboration with research and innovation.

Today, we are publishing that research and announcing a new funding opportunity that we hope will support these new ways of collaborating. The scoping research was developed with input from a steering group of 14 members and an engagement process with over 50 individuals from different forms of community representation.

The resulting report demonstrates the need to:

  • rethink what is recognised and valued in funding for knowledge production
  • change where funding sits in community research relationships
  • invest in capacity and space to set the research agenda and fund infrastructure that supports communities to identify and solve their needs for knowledge, data and research
  • be upfront about the power imbalances inherent in research investment, recognising that currently certain groups and institutions have greater opportunity and access than others.

These issues can only start to be resolved if we shift our focus. A shift from funding the change we think is the solution, to funding in response to the needs of communities and the circumstances they’re in.

Community research networks

The expression of interest phase of the UKRI community research networks launches today and opens for applications on 25 July. We are investing £500,000 into 20 collaborations made up of:

  • community organisations
  • charities
  • local authorities
  • research organisations.

We will support these collaborations to develop proposals for the implementation phase, opening in April 2023. In this phase, the emphasis for the collaborations will be on:

  • designing and building relationships and connections
  • developing and sharing knowledge
  • supporting the core skills and capacity to develop research produced in genuine collaboration with communities.

Top image:  Credit: SDI Productions, E+ via Getty Images

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