In Part 5a of Diary of a Research Fellow I discuss the motivations for running a stakeholder meeting with individuals from the local third and voluntary sector in order to develop the research aims and questions for the research project, now called ‘Men, poverty and lifetimes of care’. This formed part of a process of co-production with practitioners intended to develop it in a way that the project has the potential to have some kind of impact and to garner evidence that is of some use to the communities being studied.
In part b, which follows, I describe the activities I designed and ran to achieve this aim.
Late last year I began meeting with potential stakeholders for my research project on men’s care responsibilities in low-income localities. I targeted third and voluntary sector organisations that were either known to the previous project members of the datasets I have been analyzing or who I thought might have an interest in the project. In particular, I directly approached individuals who already provide services to men in the local area that I identified through the Volition website and through conversations with other individuals who already have relationships with the third sector. I met with interested individuals and asked them questions about their organisations’ current goals and priorities and their knowledge and understanding of the local care sector in Leeds. Via these individual conversations I began to map the local care sector, established where else I might get contacts from and began the process of access to potential participants to the project.
Alongside this process I have also been analyzing existing evidence from two Timescapes datasets (which I reflect on here). About seven months into the project and having progressed in this process I had information from individual stakeholders and I had the beginnings of a hypothesis informing what the project needs to do as a result of the secondary analysis. I determined that it would be productive to bring these two aspects of the project development together. I decided to invite each of my stakeholders to a meeting, with several purposes:
- Gaining a shared understanding of current policy and practice goals in Leeds,
- Determining the relevance of the outcomes of the secondary analysis to the individuals and organisations who are working with men in Leeds and,
- To develop the research aims and questions to ensure that the outcomes of the research are likely to be of interest and relevance, to the third and voluntary sector in Leeds and hopefully have some impact.
This was part of a process of co-production and of trying to engage meaningfully with people who know and work closely with low-income men in Leeds. As Rachel Hayyman argues ‘the time is ripe for co-production’ in the social sciences despite the many barriers that lie between academics and practitioners. According to Orr and Bennett (2012) co-production is about fostering greater connectedness between academics and practitioners. For them:
Getting together to foster dialogues of theory and practice is frequently presented as one of the major tasks confronting academia: challenging researchers to translate their bright ideas into pay-offs for non-academic organisations. Such dialogue has been presented variously as a means of generating ‘impact’ or ‘relevance’ or of increasing levels of ‘knowledge utilisation’.
In my own research, I am trying to generate insights into what enables and constrains men in fulfilling their care responsibilities in low-income localities over time but it is clear from the qualitative secondary analysis I have conducted, that men in these circumstances benefit strongly from particular kinds of support from third sector organisations. I needed to understand more about how my research might contribute, from the people who work with these men on a regular basis and who play key roles in their communities.
Bringing together individuals from different organisations with potentially conflicting interests and expectations carried the potential for risk, but the individual conversations prior to the meeting suggested to me that there may be enough of a connection between each organization and individual to make the meeting productive. I was also concerned that people would not be able to commit the time to the meeting and indeed one had to leave early and another could not make it. Fortunately this did not detract from the productivity of the meeting overall, which was a highly rewarding process. The group also seemed to share concerns and priorities and their narratives provided ideas about the direction the research could take, all rooted in discussion of the existing evidence and the research aims and interests. While some academics are reportedly reticent about co-production with practitioners (see review here) and there are indeed issues with dissemination and mutual biases, this was an important process, enhanced by bringing stakeholders together to communicate and reflect on existing evidence.
In part b, I explain more about how the meeting was run and how it worked in practice. I am currently writing up a report from the meeting that I will be sharing here and on the project website.