Helen Butcher: Reflections on facilitating community engagement through collaborative inquiry

ChichesterHelen Butcher CREST posterPublic debate around the Big Society agenda centres on the increased use of partnership working and collaboration, augmented by ‘active citizenship’ through meaningful community engagement’ encompassing ‘empowerment’ and direct citizen involvement in the delivery of public services through participatory ‘co-production’ where the state alone is unable to solve complex social problems (Norman, 2010, Clemens & Guthrie, 2010, Cabinet Office, 2010, Communities & Local Government, 2008, Leung, Yen & Minkler, 2003).

At the same time, Universities are coming under increasing pressure to move from mode 1 to mode 2 knowledge production, and from the ‘triple helix’ of academia-industry-government relations to become more dynamically engaged with local communities in order to utilise their expertise and educational resources to help address local public issues (RCUK, 2007, Hart, et al, 2007, Becher & Trowler, 2001, Kellogg Commission on The Future of State and Land-Grant Universities, 1999).

My poster presentation aims to provide some reflection on my experience of university-government-private partnership initiated community engagement (Adler & Norrgren, 2004) undertaken through a Collaborative Inquiry (Bray et al).  This level of ‘community engaged studentship’ served to generate useful practically applied knowledge on collaboration and community and partnership working, encouraged co-learning and knowledge exchange, and also fostered the co-design of solutions for some of the ‘wicked issues’ involved in meeting the travel and transport needs of children and young people living within in the locality.

This collaborative inquiry drew on a wide literature review (including existing local studies) and an iterative cycle of community engagement which gave voice to those most affected by the issues (Leung et al, 2004) using a Travel Diary Questionnaire Survey of 464 children and young people aged 8-19, in-depth interviews with 12 young people aged 12-17, and 8 in-depth interviews with parents/carers, and which culminated in a participatory workshop event which also facilitated the continuous process of  ‘member checking’ of earlier findings.