Looking back – to move forward
IVAR introduce a new research project for Local Trust
We’ve just announced IVAR as research partner for our Empowered Communities project. The IVAR team are preparing to facilitate a diverse dialogue that will explore the past, present and future of support to communities.
By Leila Baker, head of research, IVAR
The Institute for Voluntary Action Research has been appointed by Local Trust to be responsible for a research project that will ask, 'What needs to happen to empower communities?' and 'Does community development still have a contribution to make?' I’ll be leading the work alongside my IVAR colleagues, including Helen Garforth (Associate) and Marilyn Taylor (Visting Fellow).
We're excited and not a little humbled to have the chance to work with people across the UK who have important insights and opinions to contribute to this research. What we discover will matter to Local Trust, to IVAR and to the hundreds of people who have already signed up to updates on the project.
A research approach for our times
The withdrawal of the state is leaving communities to do more for themselves, widening the gap between rich and poor, and damaging the infrastructure that supports community action. Cuts and austerity have become powerful drivers for finding different ways of doing a huge range of things – from how we involve people in their own care and wellbeing; to how we finance community building and empowerment. Brexit has sharpened our awareness of division and tensions in communities and subsequent incidents of racism or other prejudice have mobilised and alarmed people across the generations.
So what kind of research is needed? This isn't a big project. The budget of £40,000 sounds like a lot until you start to break it down across work in all four nations of the UK and with everyone who has something to say. But the money that is available for Local Trust to act on the research is sizeable – a £500,000 legacy from the Community Development Foundation. Our job is to facilitate the best possible inquiry that £40,000 can buy so that the actions that follow will be well informed, rigorous and ambitious for communities. We call it 'participatory action research'.
The kind of leadership it needs won't come from the front. It will be scattered across the people that take part. We have been asked to take responsibility for facilitating this research process, not invited to park our tanks on it.
Our approach is simple. We want to ask great questions and stimulate dialogue between diverse groups of people. How we do that will vary - we'll use whatever language, style or approach that will elicit the 'best' response. And by 'best' I mean one that allows participants to get across their perspective, experience and opinions and that challenges them to think widely and critically. And, yes, we want people to have conversations that they find enjoyable, stimulating and useful for themselves too.
Learning from the past
The dialogues we facilitate will need to connect people with different perspectives, experiences and opinions. That includes creating opportunities for conversations across the generations. Over the past few weeks, I have been struck by the number of conversations and chance encounters that I have observed between people of different generations. These conversations hearten and strengthen, but also inform.
Lessons from the past matter. Being ambitious for the future matters too and sometimes that means doing things in new ways. But let's not forget that if you are poor, hungry, lonely or isolated, good doesn't necessarily equate to new. We need the past as much as the present to help us do good.
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