Building robust and long-term networks to share knowledge, skills and ideas, and to foster research collaborations.
Working across boundaries implies high transaction costs: it takes a lot of work to locate potential partners, identify common interests, and agree on shared agendas that can lead to concrete collaborations. Building these relationships from scratch can seem onerous, and be off-putting to both researchers and practitioners. On the other hand, it can be easy to operate in a comfort zone building on established partnerships, with certain practitioners taking a specialised role in collaborating with researchers to the potential exclusion of others.
Academic researchers and practitioners may have many common interests, but they often move in different circles, which have different networks and mechanisms for learning, communication and collaboration. This can be a barrier to collaboration, and to the accessibility and sharing of research findings and outputs.
Establishing collaborative research partnerships between researchers and practitioners is sometimes held back by the fact there are few sites where they can interface, share knowledge, and get to know who is doing what. Setting up research networks around particular topics, issues or approaches is one practice that can help to address this barrier.
Through activities such as email lists, newsletters, workshops, etc, researchers working in similar areas can get to know each other, identify needs jointly, and establish collaborative relationships for one-off projects or longer term engagement.
Some such networks are based in universities. Examples include Durham University’s Centre for Social Justice and Community Action (CSCJA), which includes researchers from different backgrounds interested in participatory action research, and the Community-University Partnership Programme at Brighton University (CUPP). These initiatives maintain an ongoing base of commitment to and knowledge of collaborative working within their universities, beyond the lifetime of specific projects and, potentially, the tenure of particular staff. This provides a crucial focus both for interested researchers and research students, and for community groups interested in working with the unversity, whose work can build on this established institutional knowledge.
Other networks are built around particular organisations or movements. The www.transitionresearchnetwork.org" target="new">Transition Research Network was set up following workshops on research at Transition Network conferences, that identified a need for an ongoing platform to develop effective working protocols, share research findings and support new collaborations. The UK Permaculture Association supports a research advisory board including researchers trained in permaculture and research-active permaculture practitioners, to develop new projects and to support the work of their inhouse research staff and volunteers. Research in Community is a largely German-based network of researchers who are mostly connected with the ecovillage movement, but also with interests in Transition and permaculture. All three of these networks have a mostly national focus and in addition collaborate in research activities connected with the new European-wide ECOLISE network of community-led sustainability action; the Permaculture Association is additionally establishing an International Permaculture Network at global scale.
For many activist researchers these relationships are prioritised anyway. But working across scales, from individuals or small groups to relationships between institutions/organisations, may help provide wider platforms for collaborative research efforts to become easier and the norm. Attention also needs to be given to the different needs and priorities of network partners, and the development of a shared language.
Build robust and long-term networks at a range of scales, to share knowledge, skills and ideas, and to foster research collaborations. Seek to initiate your research collaboration through such a network, or link it to one, if it exists, or examine if it can be the starting point for a new network if none exists. Contribute findings and outputs to the knowledge commons maintained by relevant networks as part of your dissemination.
The maintenance of academic-practitioner networks is an example of working across boundaries. It both relies on and is an important part of building community, and is hence supported by the strong support mechanisms, the quality of interpersonal relations, and willingness to see issues from the point of view of someone else. As a space for collective active learning they are a site for capturing and communicating learning and hence able to create and maintain knowledge commons. Interactions within and between networks can greatly facilitate working across scales.
Hart, A., & D. Wolff, 2006. Developing local ‘communities of practice’ through local community-university partnerships. Planning, Practice and Research 21(1): 121-138.
Hart, A., Maddison, E. Wolff, D. (eds.), 2007. Community-university partnership in practice. Leicester: NIACE.
Sears, E., C. Warburton-Brown, T. Remiarz & R. S. Ferguson, 2013. A social learning organisation evolves a research capability in order to study itself. Poster presentation at the Tyndall Centre Radical Emissions Reduction Conference, London, UK, 10th – 11th December 2013.
Transition Research Network 2012. New Knowledge for Resilient Futures. Plymouth, UK.
Durham workshop - identified the need to develop shared language