Global Perspectives on Research Co-Production with Communities: conference report

IRiS recently hosted its 2017 conference in partnership with the University of Melbourne’s Social Equity Institute. Global Perspectives on Research Co-production was co-conceived and co-convened by IRiS’s Lisa Goodson and MSEI’s Deborah Warr.  The conference ran over two days on the 14th and 15th September, and was attended by 85 delegates who explored the themes of co-production and community engagement in research.

Keynote speakers included Teresa Córdova, Director of the Great Cities Institute at the University of Chicago, Illinois and Professor Angie Hart, Academic Director of the Community University Partnership Programme and Professor of Child, Family & Community Health at the University of Brighton, along with her colleagues from the social enterprise BoingBoing, Simon Duncan and Scott Dennis.

The conference included 19 concurrent panel sessions with 50 papers.  Panel sessions took different forms with some being the traditional academic conference format with papers grouped according to areas of focus while others ran as interactive workshops.  Participants came from 16 different countries including Australia, US, Canada, Mexico, India, Japan and Northern and Southern Europe. Dr. Anita Patil Deshmuk, Executive Director of Partners for Urban Knowledge, Action and Research (PUKAR), presented a special session on the work of this inspiring and longstanding independent research collective based in Mumbai, India.

Each day the conference kicked off with a keynote talk that set a lively tone for the rest of the day.  First up was Angie, Simon and Scott who talked about the work of Boingboing, a social enterprise that has developed from the University of Brighton. Their talk focused on the opportunities and challenges for co-producing research with communities, and drew on their experiences of co-producing resilience research and impact over the past ten years. On day 2, Teresa’s keynote focused on projects which involved strategic engagements with communities, the media, foundations and policy makers to address conditions of chronic and concentrated joblessness among teens and young adults in Chicago. Both days concluded with panel discussions that offered pithy commentary from speakers representing diverse experiences and viewpoints and which generated lively discussion from the floor.

The conference also featured two art installations.  One was by the University of Birmingham’s artist in residence, Faye Claridge. Faye’s work, Blackface Tradition, Tyranny and Tension, explored the practice of blackfacing amongst Border Morris dancers, and the controversy this has been provoking among contemporary audiences.  The second installation was from Melbourne, Australia, and was created by artist/dancer/researcher Gretel Taylor and video artist, Diane Reid. The work, Dancing Place, features nine videos that were co-produced with communities and explored experiences of identity and co-presence in a diverse region of Melbourne.

As conference convenors we feel that the conference was successful in offering delegates an opportunity to hear from experts in the field, share their own experiences of working with communities to co-produce research and engage with varied formats for reflecting on a wide range of issues. We have also received some wonderful feedback close to home and further afield.  As an administrator, Ann has been involved in organising many events at the University of Birmingham and she felt that it was one of the best events that she’d been involved in. This was mainly because there was a good mix of academics, practitioners and community members that gave the conference an inclusive feel. Other delegates offered similar views, including one who sent us the following feedback:

“The conference vibe was inclusive and friendly and the conference program felt the right mix of parallel session presentations and keynotes.  I really liked that participants were not wearing name tags denoting academic status”.  (Paper presenter and panel chair, Australia)

We created a hashtag for the conference and others tweeted their feedback. Comments reflected our own impressions that the conference had offered opportunities for people to learn from each other’s experiences and practices:

 

It was also great to hear how university-community partnerships were empowering teams to really make a difference in their communities:

Our hope now is that the conference inspires people to create local and global networks to keep sharing their ideas, practices and experience.  Receiving the following message only two weeks after the conference, we are encouraged that this has already started:

“Just a quick, albeit belated line, to offer my sincere thanks for the opportunity to present at the recent IRiS conference. We attracted a friendly and interactive audience to our seminar, and managed to attend several others – making some valuable contacts, one of whom I am corresponding with today!” (Paper presenter, UK).

In closing the conference, we discussed possible outcomes to advance these aspirations. While there were mentions of special issues in journals or an edited book, we considered that a more accessible and practical resource might be a good first step. Lisa and Deborah have applied for ESRC Follow on funds to conduct a small project that would involve interested local and international (community and academic) partners in co-designing a fold-out ‘atlas’ (that will be adapted to create a web-based resource) offering accessible, ‘state of knowledge’ summaries, key definitions, practices and challenges, ethical issues and other content that is relevant for co-producing research across a diversity of settings. This idea was itself inspired by one of the presentations at the conference where Tiffaney Bishop talked about a visually captivating resource she had co-created with young artists. Our aim is for this project to build a foundation for ambitious future collaborations with colleagues around the world that use co-production to research and address pressing social issues.

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