Tuesday, 19 July 2011

An hexperiment....

Hello folks.This is an experiment. Basically, I'm going to post a bit of an ESRC research proposal I'm working on on this blog and I want your comments. Please comment. Pretty please. Pretty please with cherries on top. The initial idea was to actually "crowd source" my "Case for Support" - this is the most important bit where you outline what you're going to do. However, I've personally come across cases where people have just completely stolen research ideas. So, as a bit of a cynic, I'm not going to do that. I'm going to post my "Pathways to Impact" statement. I'm presuming the UK research councils will now get sick of seeing this copied and pasted into research proposals. Or I humour myself, anyway....

In these hellish days of further education we now have to think about what "impact" our research will have. This has caused quite a bit of hoo-ha as the argument that "Einstein didn't have social and economic impact" keeps cropping up. I'm not sure what I think about the whole debate. However, I do think it is quite important in the social sciences because I just think research should make a difference, or want to make a difference, particularly when it's policy research like mine. It's me political mission.

Anyway, as part of the impact agenda, we have to produce this "Pathways to Impact" statement. And I want your comments on it. I want you to check whether it makes sense, spellink and grandma, whether you think the impact is achievable, whether it's "good" impact. So I want "lay" and professional (from other academics) views, please. Pretty please etc. Unfortunately, I can't reveal too much about the rest of the research proposal, but if you look at my other posts you'll probably be able to work out what it might be about:

"As policy analysis this research aims to have impact through increasing the effectiveness of public services. The proposed routes to impact are both instrumental and conceptual, aiming to develop a network of interested public sector policy-makers and developing an ongoing dialogue. This will be part of the researcher development for the PI, producing a partnership with policymakers.

In instrumental terms, the research is directly aligned to the most immediate concerns of policymakers. In the discourse of the “Big Society” at Westminster and in the policy agendas of the devolved administrations and local government, policymakers are increasingly interested in involving citizens in policy delivery through co-production. By focusing on those immediate interactions that can then lead onto service provision and expenditure, this research will unpack consumer relations with local authorities. Specifically, the research questions aim to:
• Provide new research knowledge to understand these interactions, how they are managed and their links to service delivery;
• Provide analysis of how the spatial pattern of interactions may be linked to quality of life and social cohesion within local authority areas;
• Provide tools for local authorities to understand and change their systems to handle these interactions more effectively.

At a conceptual level the research moves policy analysis from a focus on formal arenas for governance and participation – such as local partnerships or committees – to a focus on the everyday interactions of being a citizen. This will immediately fill a research gap between the literature on citizen participation and that on street level bureaucrats. The knowledge produced will enable local authorities to better understand who participates in the production of the local state and why.

Key stakeholders who will be interested in the research processes and findings are: policy-makers within local government – both those who manage and develop customer-focused “front-line” roles and those involved with wider citizen participation; policy-makers in central government focused on working in collaboration with local government in improving the delivery and efficiency of local services; and increasingly third-sector providers who will be entering the market to deliver local services. Initial contact has been made with a Scottish local authority suggesting there is strong interest in this research and a willingness to develop an ongoing partnership.

Being embedded in the policy-making environment through ethnographic research will allow networks with key stakeholders to develop. These will be complemented through forming a virtual sounding board of policymakers to comment on emerging findings and advise on how impact can be enhanced. Accessing communities of practice through the Local Government Improvement and Development Agency and the Improvement Service, in Scotland, will also widen the instrumental impact of the research.

The Institutes of Building and Urban Design and Housing, Urban and Real Estate Research at the School of the Built Environment have existing partnerships with government and industry. Through the research these networks and the knowledge gained from colleagues in their work will be accessed to ensure thoughtful and useful impact. In their research career so far, the PI has developed a public face and been keen to engage communities and policy-makers through direct interaction and developing research proposals, and indirectly through social media. This research project will be able to take advantage of these existing networks – indeed this Pathways to Impact statement was published on a blog to allow this community to comment on the quality and feasibility of the proposed impact."

So there goes guys, get commenting. Please?

Edit: appreciating the comments guys (and noticed quite a few people have favourited the tweet with the link). Just to clarify, there's no rush. I'm off on my hols next week, so was going to come back to this when I get back mid-August.


  1. Hi Peter

    Great idea - thoroughly approve. However, very much DON'T like it that apparently comments are not published. (Leastways, I can't see the two comments you mentioned previously on Twitter). That's against the spirit of crowdsourcing. So let me know when comments are being openly shown on the blog, and I'll mine. (Mind you, they may not be worth waiting for!)

    Tony Bovaird

  2. For me, this Impact Statement is too abstract, too general and therefore rather unconvincing. It shares these characteristics with most other Impact Statements I'ver read in recent years!

    1. List potential areas of governance and service improvements
    2. Tie these to specific stakeholders, showing how they might improve payoffs for that stakeholder e.g. priorities for Cabinet, savings for CEO and CFO, outcome improvements for Directors and Service Heads, potential high potential co-production resources (people, groups, neighbourhoods) for service managers, potential 'street reps' to work work with councillors.

    3. You should specify the dissemination methods - workshops with CMTs and Cabinets, open seminars through university and CoSLA, presentations at third sector umbrella conferences, briefing notes to be circulated to all councillors through their party organisations, blogs for policymakers, conference (which?) papers for academics etc. etc. (Note: LGID has taken over from IDeA)

    Hope this helps.


  3. Well, as someone interested in community engagement - albeit from a slightly different angle - I have to say that I think this is a solid and interesting proposal.

    Improving the effectiveness of public services via engagement with communities and policy makers is key to understanding both how people currently use services and the future developments that should be taken.

    I can understand how you wouldn't want to be too specific here about key stakeholders, but agree with the comment above about specifying how you're going to disseminate information (although is this part of this bit of the statement? I am unfamiliar with the format and aware that there must be a lot of subsections...).

    Looking forward to learning more as the project develops...

  4. Thanks for the comments Tony. My blog now has the grand total of three!

    And just to clarify for anyone else. I moderate comments on the blog, just in case, and so I know I've got them.

    I think I can make it more specific quite easily. One question though, this is an outline application, so would you still expect a lot of detail?

  5. Thanks for the comment Lizzy :o)

    I can definitely be more specific about the types of stakeholders and dissemination beyond just talking to people...

  6. I have two comments to make - one is to echo the comments above about specifically how your research is going to get out, and who you will target. Also, is there anything, public body wise, that will not be reached in this way?

    Secondly, and this is probably just because I don't really understand, everything seems focused on local government (though you do mention Westminster's BS discourse) - thinking about a lot of community engagement I've seen recently, it by necessity has a national focus and reach as it crowdsources ideas via the internet on issues of national impact. Are these not included in the scope of your research?

    All that said, it all sounds very sensible :)

  7. Thanks for the comment :o)

    And, contacting the Scottish Government had actually slipped off my to-do list... it is very focused at local government as they are the delivery body, but central government will be interested. Well, Eric Pickles won't....

  8. While I'm here, in response to the comments above, I've drafted this text for my "stakeholders":

    The key stakeholders for the research that have been identified are, firstly in the local authorities that engage directly with the research: customer service managers and those involved in customer service strategy; community engagement officers and those working to extend engagement through social media; and neighbourhood management staff.

    Outwith the case study local authorities, stakeholders will be engaged through Local Government Improvement and Development (England) and the Improvement Service (Scotland). Improving customer experiences and service improvement are central activities of these organisations. The research will make networks through their communities of practice and disseminate findings through short reports, presentations and seminars. Contact will also be made with social researchers in the Scottish Government and Communities and Local Government to disseminate findings to central government.