The event will spotlight the latest research on the events of 1918 as well as the global significances, consequences, and legacy of this watershed year. It brings international perspectives and encompasses a wide range of historical approaches as well as cross-disciplinary insights. To do so it will include seven keynote addresses from some of the leading academic authorities on the First World War and its aftermath, along with over sixty speakers in themed panel sessions. It will also include a roundtable discussion based on the theme of: ‘A Hundred Years of Teaching, Learning & Understanding the First World War: Where are we now?’
The event has been developed collaboratively with heritage agencies, museums, art galleries, funders, schools and community groups involved in First World War research, remembrance and events.
Michael Noble is a PhD researcher based at the University of Nottingham. Since 2014 he has been the project co-ordinator at the Centre for Hidden Histories.
This post is based on January’s FWW network workshop, which took place at the University of Nottingham, and which had as its theme, Public Engagement in Research. It is a timely topic, given the launch of the FWW Network Collaborative Research Grant Scheme, but also a broad one. Any blog post that attempted to cover every aspect of academic public engagement would be doomed to failure. With that in mind, I intend to break it down into sub-topics. Later posts will address subjects such as developing a co-production project, navigating university administration systems and avoiding the ‘exploitation of goodwill’. If there are any other aspects of academic public engagement that you would like to see on this blog, please leave a note in the comments below or contact me on Twitter.
For now, I will concentrate on the fundamentals of public engagement; why is it important and how a researcher might go about establishing productive relationships with non-university partners.
With a particular focus on co-production, this first post is aimed at giving readers an insight into some of the methods for making this sort of collaboration a success. It is based on my experiences of brokering and managing university-community collaborations, supported by the Centre for Hidden Histories between 2014 and 2017.
The post is in two sections. The first attempts a (necessarily) loose definition of co-production and outlines its current importance in academic research. The second provides advice on forming productive relationships with non-university partners.
Co-production and academia
Public engagement is a broad, and ever more important topic. It has huge potential for research impact and significant relevance to the Research Excellence Framework (REF).[i] With the new Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF) now in development, we can expect the concept to be around for some time to come and for public engagement to continue to be a core aspect of the academic’s work.
Researchers have described a ‘participatory turn’ through which traditional forms of knowledge transfer (whereby academics ‘transmit’ their research to non-academic audiences) evolved firstly into knowledge exchange (academics transmit research and receive non-academic knowledge and understanding in return) and more recently into full co-production (the academic and non-academic engage in fully collaborative activity).
In practical terms, it usually means an academic researcher and a non-academic partner coming together to collaborate on a research project for which they both take responsibility for completing. They share equally in its success.
Here are some examples:
An academic researcher collaborated with the parish council of a small Cheshire village to research the WW1 internment camp that had been established in (and since completely erased from) the village. They worked together to uncover evidence and collaborated on a public exhibition to share their findings.
This type of collaboration is still relatively new and there is little in the way of formal definition. Although there is a small literature on the topic, much of it is concerned with co-production in the public policy arena. However, whenever I have been asked what I mean by co-production, (it was a frequent question posed by people making applications to the co-production grant fund that I managed) I have said that it is the shared responsibility that makes it distinctive as ‘co-production’ rather than simple knowledge transfer or knowledge exchange.
Simply put, if either of the partners was to cease participating, the project itself would fail.
It is an incredibly rewarding approach to public engagement and, done properly, can yield greater benefits than ‘traditional’ research approaches. It can provide researchers with access to ideas and information, to resources and to insights that are otherwise not available as mainstream sources. Furthermore, it recognises the value of the individuals and communities in research and opens the gates of the academy a little bit further.
However, for it to work effectively, it is crucial that a solid relationship exists between the partners.
Building an effective relationship with a non-university partner
First, some advice. You, the researcher, should take ownership of your community relationships. Think of them as a personal asset and an aspect of your portfolio. Consider them in parallel with your publication record. Maintain them, transfer them, develop them. Own them.
Working relationships with non-university partners are valuable, even if they don’t all lead to collaborative projects. A network of contacts in heritage organisations, local authorities and the third sector can provide the researcher with access to information and knowledge that hasn’t reached the academy, or is unavailable in established archives. I have worked with non-university partners who, for example, possess private collections of historical documents, such as photographs and letters, or are members of a minority community that is of historical interest to researchers. These groups have been able to share their resources and knowledge and the ensuing relationships have been of immense value to both parties.
OK, so where do we start? How does a researcher build a relationship with a non-academic partner?
What is a non-academic partner?
It can be difficult to come up with a single definitional outline that covers all of the types of organisation with which you may collaborate as a researcher. They may be publicly funded organisations, charities, clubs or voluntary societies or even commercial organisations. The particular type will depend to a large extent on the nature of your research and you may also find that your funder has strict rules about which type of organisation you may collaborate with, particularly if some of the funding will be shared with the partner.
The type (and size) of the organisation is also somewhat important. For some organisations, the project will be a single activity among many that they do. An example would be a school that sets up a small group of pupils to take part in a project. For others, the project is the group; it is the reason that the group was established or represents the total current workload of the organisation. An example would be a local history group that has been established to commemorate a significant anniversary event.
The question of size and focus is important for your relationship -it will effect how largely you feature in their plans and whether the group has to balance its work on the project against other demands on its time. It may also have an impact on how ‘professional’ or ‘personal’ your partner regards their work and this will set the tone for your relationship. For instance, a school may have stricter finance rules but will be more dispassionate about the finances than a small network of local householders who have formed a project group and who are largely self-financed.
The most important element of this phase is the building of the relationship. There are some barriers to a successful university-community partnership and in some ways, it’s easier to provide a guide to success by describing these barriers and suggesting ways through them.
On the community side, you will find that some individuals and organisations have a mistrust or suspicion of universities or otherwise feel that they are not suited to collaborative work of this nature. In my experience, the underlying reasons for this fall into three main categories.
The partner feels proprietorial about their work/project/sources and fear that the university is going to come in and take over, or dominate the project to their exclusion.
Imposter syndrome. The partner worries that their work is of minor importance or that they are not qualified to carry out the project. They convince themselves that the university is mistaken in taking an interest and worry that they will be ‘found out’ before long.
Some potential partners have a mistrust of the state. They may come from a culture or society in which having the government (including state-supported institutions such as HEIs) taking an interest in you is something to be feared.
It takes time and effort to overcome these worries. It can be challenging and frustrating but it is worth pursuing and there are methods that you can use to put your new contact at ease.
Try to identify the reasons for the barrier. Don’t push (unless you feel it’s worth pursuing the reasons) but it might help when you come to offer reassurance as it can help you to have an open and constructive conversation.
Explain to your new partner what is in it for you. They may believe that you’re ultimately trying to snatch their historical collection of correspondence, while you’re sitting there mentally working out the impact factor that this it is worth to you. The best co-produced projects are ones in which each partner has a distinctive, but mutually dependent goal. It’s best to be honest about your goals from the outset.
Make yourself useful early on. This might be by sending them some formal research that you have discovered or forwarding them a relevant news article that triggers a conversation. As I’ve developed my own network, I’ve found that brokering a second relationship can be useful. One new contact of mine wanted to work with the Imperial War Museum. I was able to personally introduce them to the relevant person at IWM. This established my credentials and catalysed my relationship with the new partner.
Where possible, go to see the new contact in person. This can be tricky to manage with costs/time but it is well worth doing if you can. It’s always helpful to meet in a relaxed environment. My preference is always to suggest meeting in a coffee shop. They’re easy to find, usually conducive to quiet chat and offer an environment that sets people at their ease. Remember, you’re looking to develop a friendship. Find other topics to discuss and have a laugh with your new partner.
Throughout this, be aware of the timeframe. If you’re developing a project idea with a new partner, you will need to factor in the relationship building to the development time. This may take several months, and it may not be appropriate to write a formal proposal until after you have established the basis of a working relationship. It is for this reason that I suggest building a network as you develop your career and before you even have a project idea in mind. Some of the best projects I have seen have been developed by partners who have had a long-standing relationship and who created their project jointly.
Remember, the relationship is the most valuable product of all this effort. Even if you don’t succeed in launching a project, continue to nurture the relationship -other project ideas will come. The drive for co-production isn’t going to go away and, as a researcher with a rich network of non-university partners, you will be in the best position to meet its unique demands.
[i] [i] According to figures prepared by NCCPE, nearly half of REF2014 submissions cited public engagement as part of the path to impact.
The First World War Network is proud to be organising a one-day workshop on Saturday 24 March at the University of Hertfordshire alongside our colleagues and friends at War Through Other Stuff and the Everyday Lives in War AHRC First World War Public Engagement Centre.
Witnessing War has been scheduled to coincide with the University of Hertfordshire’s display of Beyond the Battlefields, an exhibition of photographs taken by the German photographer Käthe Buchler during the First World War. The workshop will include a series of talks from both academic researchers and those that have experienced conflict at first hand. There will also be an activity centering on Käthe Buchler’s photographs, giving participants the chance to interact with and respond to the images.
A full programme will be released shortly along with registration details. Attendance for First World War Network members at this fascinating event will, of course, be FREE, and travel bursaries will be available.
Joining the First World War Network is free. To join our rapidly expanding network of First World War researchers from a range of backgrounds, please see our ‘How to join’ page or click HERE.
Keep your eyes peeled here and on Twitter for further announcements!
We are delighted to announce the details for the next First World War Network workshop, which will be taking place at the University of Nottingham on Wednesday 17 January 2018.
Once again, the theme of the workshop has been chosen in direct response to the wishes of our members, and will focus on one of the most exciting areas of historical research: public engagement!
This is your chance to come and meet the next generation of First World War researchers, share your research in an informal, supportive atmosphere, learn about how public engagement works, and be the first to hear about the First World War Network’s own bespoke public engagement funding scheme!
Attendance for this event is free to members of the First World War Network, but numbers are strictly limited. Travel bursaries will be available, and the workshop will commence at 11am to reduce the need for attendees to arrange overnight accommodation.
Not yet a member of the First World War Network? Join today by visiting the link below and completing our introductory questionnaire:
‘1918-2018: The End of the War & The Reshaping of a Century’, 6-8 September 2018, University of Wolverhampton
This conference, hosted by the Centre for Historical Research at the University of Wolverhampton in association with the WFA and the FWW Network for Early Career & Postgraduate Researchers, seeks to spotlight the latest research on the events of 1918 as well as the global significances, consequences, and legacy of this watershed year.
The conference will include keynote addresses from some of the leading names in the field: Professor Alison Fell (Leeds), Professor Peter Frankopan (Oxford), Professor John Horne (TCD), Professor Gary Sheffield (Wolverhampton), Professor Sir Hew Strachan (St Andrews), Professor Laura Ugolini (Wolverhampton) & Professor Jay Winter (Yale).
We invite abstracts for 20-minute presentations fitting within the conference topic. Therein we encourage international perspectives and seek a range of historical approaches together with cross-disciplinary insights. Suggested themes may include but are not limited to:
Warfare in 1918
The War in 1918
Women in 1918
Strategy, Tactics & Technology
Victory & Defeat
Winners & Losers
Peace & (Ongoing) Conflict
Aftermaths, Legacies & Impacts
Veterans (Male & Female)
Civilians & Consequences
Gender, Class, Race & Ethnicity
Ends & Beginnings
Learning/Understanding the War
Commemoration & Memory
We welcome submissions from scholars, including early career researchers & postgraduate students, as well as independent researchers, organisations, and community projects.
The First World War Network is delighted to be among the institutions supporting this conference, and we are keen to encourage members to submit submissions on relevant topics. We hope to be in a position to offer a limited number of bursaries to help support the participation of ECRs/PGRs in this event, and will be providing opportunities for ECR/PGR development as part of the conference. For further details, please contact Dr Oli Wilkinson at the address below.
Abstracts of 250 words should be accompanied by your name, affiliation (if applicable) and a brief biographical statement (c. 100 words). Panel submissions will also be considered.
Save the dates! Between 6 and 8 September 2018, the Centre for Historical Research at the University of Wolverhampton, in collaboration with the Western Front Association and the FWWNetwork, will be hosting a major international conference entitled 1918-2018: The End of the War and the Reshaping of a Century.
2018 represents a major milestone in the history of the First World War, not least because it marks the centenary anniversary of the end of the conflict. This encompassing conference seeks to spotlight the latest research on the events of 1918 as well as the global significance, consequences, and legacies of this watershed year. It encourages international perspectives and seeks to encompass a wide range of historical approaches as well as cross-disciplinary insights.
The event will feature keynote addresses from some of the leading academic authorities on the First World War and what came afterwards, along with panel sessions from established and emerging academic researchers. Moreover, the event is being developed in collaboration with heritage agencies, museums, art galleries, funders, schools and community groups involved in First World War research, remembrance and events. FWWNetwork will be working hard to support postgraduate students and early career researchers’ involvement in the event.
Keynote contributions include:
Professor Alison Fell (University of Leeds)
Dr Peter Frankopan (University of Oxford)
Professor John Horne (Trinity College Dublin)
Professor Sir Hew Strachan (University of St Andrews)
Professor Jay Winter (Yale University)
We ask you to ‘Save the Date’ and we invite expressions of interest from scholars (including early career and postgraduate researchers), independent researchers, organisations, groups and individuals interested in participating (as either contributor or attendee) in the conference.
A formal call for papers will follow in summer 2017.
The conference is being organised by: Professor Stephen Badsey, Professor John Buckley, Dr Simon Constantine, Dr Spencer Jones, Professor Gary Sheffield, Professor Laura Ugolini and Dr Oliver Wilkinson.
To register your interest or for any further enquires please contact:
Following our highly successful conference in February 2016, the steering committee behind FWWNetwork has been hard at work developing our plans to expand our small group into a national and international network for postgraduates and early career researchers with an interest in the study of the First World War. In January 2017, we were successful in our bid to secure funding to follow our aims, and we are delighted to announce that FWWNetwork will be working in partnership with the five existing AHRC First World War Engagement Centres to deliver networking opportunities and training workshops, provide funding to support collaborative research projects, and to organise an international conference on the centenary of the First World War in 2019.
FWWNetwork will formally launch at the What Tommy Did Next … Veterans’ Organisations of the First World War conference in Edinburgh, Saturday 18 March 2017. The conference website is: http://www.what-tommy-did-next.org.uk/
We would love to see as many postgraduates and early career researchers as possible at our launch event, and be delighted to hear your ideas and thoughts about what the network can do to develop and promote the study of the First World War both within and outside the academy. There will be plenty of opportunities on the day to hear from the steering committee, join up, and add your voice to what we expect to be a lively, diverse, and rewarding community of like-minded researchers from across the disciplinary spectrum.
For those of you unable to make it to Edinburgh, please follow us on Twitter @FwwNetwork, where we will continue to update you on the progress of the launch and the latest information regarding the network.