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£2.4 million to connect communities in key decision making

Press release issued: 23 January 2013

A research programme that aims to develop new ways of engaging communities in decision making with businesses and policy makers will begin thanks to funding of £2.4 million from the Economic and Social Research Council [ESRC].

A research programme that aims to develop new ways of engaging communities in decision making with businesses and policy makers will begin thanks to funding of £2.4 million from the Economic and Social Research Council [ESRC].

All too often decision-makers think that ‘community engagement’ means inviting communities to comment on decisions that have already been made. This can leave isolated and excluded communities feeling even more disempowered. 

This collaborative project, beginning in April 2013, aims to re-shape the way in which decision making is made by connecting communities in Bristol and South Wales with researchers from the Universities of Bristol and Cardiff to co-produce new forms of engagement across politics, policy and the arts.

Community groups will work with academics to design a research programme that is focused around the needs of the community rather than the interests of powerful institutions. The programme will seek to understand how neighbourhoods can become bridges to engagement with regulators, policy-makers and businesses, and identify new forms of consultation.

The team will be experimenting with websites and social media to create on-line opportunities for communities to access expertise and develop new skills to engage in policy-making and politics.

Dr Morag McDermont, who is leading the research from the University of Bristol Law School, said: “A radical re-design of community engagement is needed to help neighbourhoods find new and more effective ways to be involved in the political and social issues that affect them.

“Our 'cross-border' collaboration with communities and academics in south west England and south Wales will enable us to contrast the different ways that community engagement is enabled and controlled in two nations of the devolved UK. These insights will allow us, together, to create new experiments in community engagement.”

Sue Cohen, CEO of Single Parent Action Network [SPAN] and member of the programme’s Management Team, commented: "This is a groundbreaking project bringing together grassroots groups and researchers to co-produce participation in decision making across politics, policy and the arts.  Regulation can stifle creativity and voice, particularly in communities more isolated from the mainstream.  Our ambition in this exciting project is to release capacity and voice digitally, artistically and across diverse communities.  Together, we will find spaces to share, learn and inspire, creating new ways forward for participating in policy development and decision-making."

Dr Eva Elliott, a member of the programme’s Management Team from Cardiff University’s School of Social Sciences, added: “We are living in troubled times.  Austerity is hitting already bruised communities in south Wales even harder.  Universities are an important resource and the research provides an opportunity for communities, academics, creative artists and policy makers to think and act together to discover and articulate solutions for our times.  Working in two increasingly divergent national policy contexts we welcome the opportunity for comparing, sharing and learning from different approaches to community mobilisation and engagement.”

The five-year ESRC-funded study, entitled ‘Productive Margins: Regulating for Engagement’, will begin April 2013. Further information on the research programme is available on the Productive Margins website or by contacting the Principal Investigator Dr Morag McDermont.


Further information

The Economic and Social Research Council

The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK's largest organisation for funding research on economic and social issues. It supports independent, high quality research which has an impact on business, the public sector and the third sector. The ESRC's total budget for 2012/13 is £205 million. At any one time the ESRC supports over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and independent research institutes. More at

Connected Communities is a new cross-Council Programme being led by the AHRC in partnership with the EPSRC, ESRC, MRC and NERC and a range of other organisations to understand the changing nature of communities in their historical and cultural contexts and the value of communities in sustaining and enhancing our future quality of life.

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