Fund pledges to put local charities at heart of research agenda

Photo by: Helena Lopes/Pexels
Photo by: Helena Lopes/Pexels

A £4m fund has been launched to improve the way that research bodies work with charities and community groups, amid claims that local expertise can be disrespected and co-opted by universities and other institutions.

Coalitions of charities will be able to apply for up to £25,000 of seed funding to make plans for engaging with research organisations.

UK Research and Innovation, a government-backed coalition of research councils, is funding the project, which will run over the next four years.

The funding will create community research networks to work “at the heart of research production”, UKRI said in a statement.

The funding was announced as researchers found that local groups faced “various experiences in struggling to gain equal roles and recognition regarding commissioning, producing or using knowledge with research institutions and funders”. 

The report said that local groups that worked with formal researchers described: "experiences of feeling under-recognised, under-valued, co-opted and, in certain cases, actively or passively discriminated against”.

The research, published by the Institute for Community Studies and based on conversations with more than 50 community groups, said that non-research groups such as charities and community organisations had been invited to participate in formal research projects.

But it said the groups were: "Rarely given power over what and why knowledge is needed, how knowledge that affects them is created, or what knowledge is valued. 

“The imbalance of power has ranged from inequality over decisions, even in well-intentioned partnerships aimed to produce knowledge about an issue, to grave issues of injustice where communities’ experiences are used or ‘exploited’ in research.”

The report recommended that formal research bodies “prioritise issues of social justice regarding who has a stake in knowledge creation."

It said: "To build more equitable involvement, there is growing demand for the research and innovation systems to recognise and respond to forms of knowledge that are produced by - and seen as valuable to - communities”.

Tom Saunders, Head of Public Engagement at UKRI, said: “Research can involve professional scientists sequencing the DNA of viruses in laboratories or academic historians analysing source material in archives. But research is also something that everyone does: asking questions and trying to make things work better, in their lives and for their communities.  

“The community research networks programme will help communities play a more active role in research and innovation, engaging with and influencing the research of universities and research institutions and carrying out research that is useful to them and the challenges that they face.”

Emily Morrison, head of the Institute for Community Studies, which is based at The Young Foundation, said:  “Today’s funding announcement is a welcome investment in infrastructure that supports communities to collaborate on research that matters to them. This is a significant step towards a more inclusive system where power and funding does not just go to the usual suspects.” 

Applications to the initial phase of the programme open on 25 July and close in September.

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