Persuading councils to come along for the [research] ride

Pip Tyler, the project manager for Communities up Close, shares ideas about how to involve councils in your research project

Researchers who want their work to be influential know it’s a tough sell. It’s reasonable that your target audience won’t put a research project at the top of their list of priorities. Add the potentially incendiary topic of migration and the context of Brexit, as we did, and you can include wariness in the list of barriers you face.

Mindful of this, we designed the Communities up Close project to involve councils every step of the way where possible, in order to increase the likelihood that they’ll find it useful and take it on board in their work. Some of the practical steps this involved include:

  • Getting council staff to input ideas and support at the funding application stage – asking if they liked our idea and which aspects they were most interested in.
  • Putting together a council advisory group with meaningful tasks - such as recruiting the researchers with us, advising on research site selection [including where to avoid], questions to ask research participants, and how best to share the findings with their colleagues.
  • Keeping the conversation going – we visited participating councils several times during the course of the project to ask for advice, input and provide briefing materials on progress. We also provided some opportunities for councils that didn’t have a research site to be involved such as sharing data and inviting them to dissemination events.
  • Respecting their need to be under the radar – upon their request, we didn’t name individual councils when promoting the project, in reports or in meetings. We asked research participants not to discuss their participation outside of the fieldwork or on social media.
  • Tailoring findings and events for interested councils. We included resources in our funding bid so we could provide statistics and written findings that just concerned that specific council area [not just the wider project research report] and offered to run a meeting just for each council to hear about the research in their area and ask questions.

This approach has been quite time intensive, so I’m grateful to my past self that we included resources for this in our planning stages. I confess we probably didn’t get it right all of the time, and we’ve been learning lessons along the way. For example, our early consultation before we determined the research sites led to disappointment among some councils where we didn’t conduct fieldwork. We hadn’t anticipated that some would be keen for this to happen!

An unanticipated benefit is that it’s not been lonely - I’ve felt a greater sense of collective ownership of the research than I have in other research projects. It’s a joy to hear officers talking about sharing reports with colleagues and to see their peers turning up to events having heard about them through the grapevine.


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Page last updated: 28/08/2020 07:15:51

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