We want our work to make sense to people, to reflect their experiences and understandings. We can only do this if we talk to people, test ideas and collect information to design or reinforce an idea, concept or activity.
We research to be inspired, to incorporate and build on ideas and learning, to review and evaluate work. We look at information produced by local groups and organisations, strategies and action plans developed by public agencies, policy documents and guidance developed by national government, national and international journals relating to our fields of interest.
Whenever we can, we work with small groups of people to undertake action research. Often a core part of consultancy projects to develop tools and frameworks, these groups are dynamic – pooling information and experiences from different places, learning from each other and providing opportunities and inspiration for contributions.
On the whole, we think about this aspect of our work in terms of having ‘a strategy for research’ rather than being about methods: planning to be participative, reflective, about change, practical and applied – research with an aim, integrating research and action. Involving a broader spectrum of people in dialogue and action as well as involving the client. We reflect on our own practice in and during the process – emphasising critical reflection and strategic planning.
The Inspiring Democracy resource for Councillors was drawn from research in 7 different areas of the country. As well as the free to view and use online Councillor Guide we have also posted up the entire Research Report from the work to provide a context and make available the volumes of useful and interesting information that arose from talking to Councillors, community groups, and officers in Councils and the voluntary sector about the changing emphasis on community engagement in the face of localism.
The development of the echo framework (to help public sector agencies assess and improve on their openness to community influence) has been entrenched in research, starting with interviews with public sector officers (many in senior positions), followed by a series of action research sessions to discuss and assess different parts of the framework. Participants took ideas away from each session, thought about them, tried them out, then returned four weeks later to feed in new ideas and learning.
Voice (a framework for community groups and networks to use to assess and increase their influence) underwent a similar process of interviews and workshops with people involved in community networks. Added to this, we invited 4 colleagues, (community development consultants working in different parts of the country), to come together to hear about, discuss and contribute to its development.
We developed DUO by inviting colleagues who had a knowledge of – and interest in – the Voice and echo frameworks to come together and consider which aspects of each might be useful to voluntary sector infrastructure organisations wanting to be more influential whilst also being open to the influence of their members. A dozen people took part in a research day and then we piloted a 2 day course