Identifying the right solutions - communities driving the agenda
‘Community-led action research is not research for the sake of it, to prove a theory or to satisfy the curious. It is about people asking their own questions about the issues they experience, getting the information and evidence they need and testing actions for change.'
On 9 June, a group of people from community organisations, non-government organisations, funding bodies, academia and Scottish Government met to talk about action research as a process and a tool for influencing new ways in which decisions are reached about our collective futures.
The subject for discussion focused on how communities and community organisations might be supported to conduct their own inquiries into the issues that affect them, and how they might be supported to use their own evidence to influence change.
Drawing on the experience of past action research programmes, and the experience in the room, it was agreed that any future action research support resource needs to have the following features at its core:
- An explicit focus on redressing the power imbalances at play in local and national decision making processes through supporting the voices of those least heard
- A long term vision for change in how we make decisions, and what evidence counts
- The embedding of community led action research across systems and across policy areas - not just another ‘programme'
- Integrity of process, and equity of all partners
- Collaboration across sectors, with a role for stewardship by community organisations and ordinary citizens
- A commitment to the idea of ‘unlearning' what we think we know, starting instead from real and lived experiences
- A focus on continuous shared learning and a collective approach to change at strategic and systems levels
One of the outcomes of the discussion was a commitment by participants to meet again in autumn of this year to engage in a co-design process for a national support resource.
The second discussion was held at Glasgow Centre for Population Health on 25th October 2016. This session extended the discussions held previously and the key points included:
- Community action research and evidence: Communities can develop evidence that makes a difference through a recognised and robust action research process.
- Community action research as a process: Action research has the potential to be embedded into the whole policy cycle and within individual projects to improve practice.
- Connecting people to power: Community led action research has the potential to link and recast relationships between communities and decision makers.
- Building capacity: there is a current and existing ‘resource' for community led action research in Scotland. This could be further developed by investing in, and developing the capacity of, communities.
- A time to take action: The current policy landscape is positive, but challenges remain and for aspirations to be realised communities must be involved. These discussions are timely, but action is required.
- Resources are necessary: This work cannot proceed effectively in the absence of adequate resourcing - both monetary and human.
There were a few call offs from community organisations on the day as they were unable to attend due to demands on their time. In response to this, and building on the discussions to date, SCDC will engage in a deeper exploratory phase with them, and a few additional community organisations who have previously engaged with action research. The objective will be to continue to build a picture of what a meaningful, relevant and useful community action research resource might look like for a range of community organisations. We'll also consider how such a resource might build skills and capacity in communities, as well as act as a mechanism to share learning and knowledge. Scottish Government has agreed to underwrite the costs for community organisations to participate.
As part of this discussion SCDC has produced a report which examines how action resarch has developed, where it is now and its how it could be used by communities across Scotland.