Working Life: Tracey Robbins on bringing real experience to policy

The research manager at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation talks about bringing together different people and ideas

Tracey Robbins
Tracey Robbins

I specialise in action research, which is making sure our work is not only based on academic evidence, but also involves people's direct experiences of poverty. So I spend time asking community workers what they think of our recommendations and improving them, then taking those improvements to someone with direct experience of poverty and asking them what they think.

A lot of what I do is to bring different people and ideas together and promote that informal layer of support and connection. Much of it involves trying to collate things before we turn them into a service, so a couple of times a week I'll be out in the community, working with and observing local groups or doing presentations to promote our work.

In one project on loneliness, we used an empty former Post Office and invited groups and people from the community to put on a programme of activities and open sessions to build community resilience and coordination, and to share knowledge and skills.

I really like the variety of my job - it's immense, and you've got to be able to juggle different elements. I'll go from writing blogs to cleaning a kitchen with community groups to giving evidence in Westminster.

I've always done community development work, but the best thing about working for the foundation is that I say things I've been saying all my life - but now people listen. Having the JRF name and track record behind the research has really opened doors and minds to doing action research, so you're not banging your head against brick walls.

Within the sector, so many people still value academic research over action and participatory evidence research, which is frustrating. They're different; you can't say one's above the other.

Working with people who are directly affected by an issue to come up with solutions that benefit them and the community can be very powerful - it sounds a bit twee, but I like to think I genuinely do make a difference.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation works to achieve social change through research, policy and practice

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