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5 things we learned at our last webinar “Supporting community voices: the power of ethnographic, participatory and peer research”

On Tuesday 8 May, The Young Foundation and Ideas for Change hosted a webinar as an informal introduction to ethnographic, participatory and peer research methods. Hannah Green, Alice Neeson, Mara Balestrini and Lucia Paz Errandonea reflect on the things we learned during the online session.

How can ethnographic, participatory and peer research be best leveraged to support community voices? This was the question we explored over the course of the webinar. Using the blog “Supporting community voices: the power of ethnographic, participatory and peer research” as a spring board, the webinar expanded our thinking around the uses of participatory and peer research methods within social innovation by exploring case studies from across Europe, particularly an exploration of Amplify NI, d Ideas for Change and Fab Lab Barcelona work in the Bristol Approach and Making Sense EU projects.

A number of key issues for community-led innovation were identified:

  • Reaching communities and individuals: Ethnography is an important element of participatory and peer research in the context of community-led social innovation. Communities are often not easily defined or reached; there may be language and other barriers to engagement. Making yourself available where people are and being present, for example in hairdressing salons, chicken shops, coffee mornings and town squares, is seen as a key strategy to effective participatory and peer research and a way of developing a richer understanding of an ‘issue’.

  • Types of engagement: Citizen Engagement often includes a passive notion of the citizen. In contrast, within social innovation research, community members can and should be engaged in a myriad of ways, giving every opportunity for them to act on their “right to contribute”. For example, as end users, contributors, entrepreneurs, funders, orchestrators and storytellers. Using trained community champions -highly driven, passionate and collaborative communities of interest and practice that can help to support those who might find engagement harder. In essence, “Teaching” others how to “teach”: supporting them and building on their existing capabilities, equipping the champs with the practical skills and tools to engage with their communities and stakeholders.

  • Moving from research to action: The nature of social innovation is that any research tends to be action oriented. That is, the insights uncovered through this type of research are used to make change. Ideas for Change introduced the Bristol Approach as a framework for running inclusive, community-driven data and technology projects, with the aim of bringing together different collaborators towards a goal of a common good.  It demonstrates how participatory action research can be used to identify matters of concern and frame the issue, including power structures and possible solutions. In this way there is a better platform for the employment of technology and orchestration – bringing in a wider audience.  

  • Supporting evidence: Technology can be a very vital part of framing, and gaining support for issues. Measuring noise levels such as in the Plaça del Sol, or damp levels in rented houses in Bristol can support claims around issues which are otherwise not being heard. Moreover, citizens needs to make sense of data. For that reason, the project design should empower citizens by supporting them in actively producing, managing and governing data.

  • Co-creation and training: Linked to the point above, co-creation and training are seen as crucial elements if research is going to move towards action. Orchestration, in this context, is a sound combination of actions that entail not only co-designing technology to be more accessible, but also providing strategies for organising citizen-led campaigns, collecting relevant data and producing insights, and promoting behaviour or policy changes.  This can be challenging and needs to be as inclusive as possible, for example including both those who create the potential ‘issue’ as well as those who suffer it. However, it creates a wealth of potential benefits, including solutions to local issues, new open source data and knowledge, new networks of social capital, and new skills which can really empower communities.

  • Importance of building a “City Commons”: A common space to ensure that other communities around the world will benefit from your experience, it is important to produce and share common resources. For example, the Citizen Sensing, a toolkit, is a collection of open source technologies and participatory methods that can empower self-organised groups to address their own issues by developing communities and data commons. The toolkit can be accessed through a book (under a Creative Commons license) and a Github repository. Shared commons can support the sustainability of community interventions as well as reduce the cost of running them.

Another example is the SIC Learning Repository, an online, open resource available for innovators, researchers and policy makers to improve their skills in design for Social Innovation.

While there are few shortcuts to gaining and utilising insights from qualitative research for the purposes of social innovation, the methodologies above outline tools, techniques and approaches to help ensure meaningful community participation. Through deep listening and participatory methodologies, it is possible to facilitate community involvement beyond the tokenistic and, furthermore, in the entire innovation process – from research to implementation. The role of the professional, therefore, shifts from one of leadership to one of facilitation and training, with a focus on identifying and removing barriers to community participation, and affirming and supporting the capacities that already exist within communities.

This webinar was an opportunity to share social learning activities on what’s worked and what hasn’t, within and across SIC networks. With these activities we promote learning and reflective practice as part of a new social innovation culture which links open and participatory learning processes to solving social problems and scaling-up local solutions and competencies.

Join our next webinar

On 10 July 2018 at 11:30 CEST, The Young Foundation and the Housing Solutions Platform (partnership led by FEANTSA, European Federation of National Organisations Working with the Homeless) will host the next webinar on “Housing solutions and social innovation”.

If you want to share your own experience tackling housing issues or are looking for ways to collectively engage and create solutions with communities on these issues, this webinar could give you some useful ideas and tools.

If you’d like to join, sign up here. After registering, you will receive a confirmation email and instructions for joining the webinar.

We hope you’ll join us!

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