The #UofGEngage Forum is a new space for students, colleagues and partners interested in public and community engagement to come together, share ideas, network and build a community. Find out more here: https://www.gla.ac.uk/myglasgow/publicengagement/uofgengageforum/
This first conversation explored key underpinning concepts which can prevent collaboration – centrally, unequal power relations; and considered how to redress power imbalances at different stages of collaboration for example in research and academia.
I was part of the speaker panel and began by outlining what a systems approach is and why it is so important.
A systems approach is usually needed to solve complex problems. Racism, like climate change or alleviating poverty, is a complex problem. It doesn’t have clear causes and the influencing variables can’t be easily isolated.
Systems change requires a shift in the foundations that hold those complex problems in place. It seeks to address the root cause of the problems. And this then allows us to work towards transformational long-term change, not incremental change. It is not projects.
It is no longer enough to simply improve systems – we need to transform them. But in anti-racism it is not enough to just transform them – we also need to disrupt them.
What does it take to disrupt systems?
Systems change needs everyone to work as a collective, to come together around a common agenda which seeks to address the root causes of the problem.
In anti-racism there is a need to address how bias and discrimination plays out within the entire system. However, we also need to consider the context, from which the system has been born and continues to exist.
Any effort to change the system needs to address how it is upheld by historical and dominant practices and cultures rooted in whiteness and patriarchy. Structural, or systemic, racism is embedded into the fabric of our institutions and our society. And unless structures are explicitly recognised and addressed, we are not going to achieve the transformational change that is needed.
It is about a shift in power. And, without unpicking the power and addressing the imbalance we are tinkering around the edges. We aren’t going to achieve racial equality.
We need to dismantle our society, structures, and systems to stop history from repeating itself.
How far have we come? And what do we need to do?
There is damaging practice happening on anti-racism in Scotland such as gatekeeping and tokenistic gestures. Some examples I have observed include:
conversations taking place without the involvement of racialised communities
those claiming involvement despite limited engagement, and then views are ignored anyhow
traditional approaches which boil down to case studies, selected narratives or the local i.e., voices become edited
the experiences of racialised communities, for example in mental health, over-researched without progress, and
other approaches that focus on getting communities to do what organisations want, rather than listening to what matters and supporting them to work with others to make a change.
I see decisions about how organisations undertake work on anti-racism, and much more, still being made by individuals who are removed from the racialised experiences of communities.
Systems change is shaped through collaborative action. We need to co-create joint processes for a systemic approach – and racialised communities need to be right at the heart of this. We need to centre communities and their voices, and we need to build up their power in this work.
A systems approach in anti-racism demands a rebalance and redistribution of power. Otherwise, we are not going to achieve the collective power to change. This means communities are not only a part of the decision making but involved from the start and in the generation of ideas. They are the experts.
We’ve got a lot of work to do.
Many participants at the first Community Conversation indicated their interest in exploring what meaningful community collaboration in anti-racism is, why we need to work together to build an inclusive society post-pandemic, and how this can be done. In response to this I wrote this blog, and the team will explore a follow-up Community Conversation focused on anti-racism and collaboration.
For any questions or further information about the first Community Conversation, the #UofGEngage Forum or #GCPHconversation, please email us.
Govanhill Baths Community Trust (GBCT) is a grassroots activist-based organisation in the heart of Govanhill delivering wide ranging health, wellbeing, arts, environmental and heritage projects.They are keen to explore potential collaborations with the University of Glasgow.
GBCT emerged 20 years ago as a grassroots campaign to return Govanhill Baths to community ownership as a vital community asset. We’ve been acknowledged as an example of what can be achieved through community participation and a governance that underlines the importance of connecting national and local social policy agendas. We have a unique history of working collectively to inspire social change, with wellbeing, art and creativity at the heart of our approach. We are committed to ambitious practices that challenge existing structures and shift agency to the community.
As an anchor organisation, we work strategically with a range of agencies, organisations and grassroots initiatives to respond and adapt to the complex needs and aspirations of the community. We work in solidarity to challenge attitudes and systems, supporting community initiatives to make the maximum difference.
We currently run five distinct programmes, three of which are social enterprises:
1) The Wellbeing, Arts and Health Programme promotes a holistic approach to wellbeing and community regeneration. The programme was developed in response to a lack of services in the area, and it is aimed at those suffering physical and mental ill health, long-term unemployed, isolated and/or disadvantaged local people. The programme is supported by key statutory organisations such as the NHS Health Improvement Team and
Social Work. We have recently added a successful Youth Project, developed by local young people, to the programme.
2) Rags to Riches is Scotland’s leading upcycling enterprise aimed at creating employment, training and volunteering opportunities through environmental/regeneration projects. It also delivers public art projects across Glasgow in partnership with housing associations and schools and has a Retail Shop in Govanhill and a Remakery service. It also co-ordinates the Scottish Upcycling Network and hosts the UpHub, a recycling, upcycling and education project.
4) GBCT Archives is a community based heritage and museum project.
5) Community Action encompasses Community Engagement, Capacity Building and Activism. The programme’s approach is bottom-up, grassroots, and community-run, providing tailored support to specific needs. It focuses on engendering opportunities for connection, fomenting participation and a sense of communal purpose, as well as providing platforms for the community to voice their issues and organise.
We play a key role in the development of local plans such as the Govanhill Local Action Plan, the strategic work of Glasgow City Council’s Regeneration Service, Social Work priorities and NHS’s health improvement strategies for Govanhill. This allows us to align our work, complementing and supporting similar activity rather than duplicating work delivered by others locally.
Govanhill Baths are very keen to explore possibilities of engaging with the University of Glasgow for targeted, long-term research on the impact our activities have on the community and how this can feed into our practice.
Apart from the project currently being developed with Dr Kathryn Skivington focusing on our People’s Pantry, we have identified three initial research needs, for which we would welcome academic collaboration:
Models of art and activism and recommendations for GBCT’s strategic aims for the next few years
Impact of the Wellbeing, Arts and Health programme on improving the local community’s wellbeing and cohesion and reducing health inequalities
Impact of Rags to Riches delivery on behaviour change in the community and connecting initiatives towards circular economy
Our work supporting researchers and partners to build relationships with communities for the purposes of developing empowering research projects and engagements often involves facilitating groups of people to understand how they will collaborate. Even with careful preparation and facilitation plans, we find that uncertainty can present a powerful but sometimes unacknowledged ‘player’ or elephant in the (digital) room.
We readily accept that our abilities to support groups to deal with uncertainty may be reflected in our facilitation craft, such as helping people to have a constructive conversation to see how they might collaborate when they are not initially sure what they can expect from each other – for example in terms of commitment, support and contributions. As a result, we are always reflecting, learning and changing our practices. However, since uncertainty does seem to be a common “that happens to us too” conversation topic in our engagement community, we think it may be helpful to share what we are learning to raise awareness of it and to let you know that if you encounter it too, you are not alone!
This blog shares some of our learning about how we encounter uncertainty and our ways to deal with it in terms of theoretical approaches and practice – or praxis. Whether you are new to public/community engagement or a seasoned facilitator, we hope that our honest reflections will be useful or at least let you know you are in good company.
Our experiences tell us that safety needs to come first in terms of our roles as facilitators to appropriately support people to manage uncertainty in ways that help to nurture their psychological, emotional and physical wellbeing. We find that helping people to build a safe space is an important part of safeguarding wellbeing so that they can work together constructively. We find this especially so when engagements require people to collaborate across difference. For example, when co-designing a conference with young people in Glasgow, we supported groups to understand how our organising team and the event itself could be safe for young people and adults with diverse and intersecting differences. We encountered different knowledge and expertise, diverse protected identity characteristics including race, LGBTQIA+ and age, as well as social class, neurodiversity and a range of experiences of mental health, poverty and care.
Happily, there are a number of resources that we find helpful for thinking about how to facilitate safe spaces. Two examples spring to mind. The International Futures Forum’s Transformative Innovation resources1 include how to help a group map their uncertainties (including best hopes through to worst fears) and supporting a group to develop a strategy for enhancing, coping with them and recovering from them. Wendy Faulkner and Claire Bynner’s handbook on How to design and plan public engagement processes2 sets out a staged approach to engagements that can be used to help identify and tackle uncertainties at the most pragmatic moments.
Facilitation can be described as a process that supports a group to make its own choices in ways that enable individuals to participate and bring the best of themselves to their task3. To do this, facilitators help a group identify and take responsibility for its purpose and outcomes. Facilitation can therefore be a helpful process to support everyone involved in engagements to give their best, honour each other’s contributions and make decisions together.
This description of facilitation sounds so clear and logical, right? What often does not sound so clear is what it is like to facilitate a group through uncertainty. What does this process look like? What does it feel like for everyone involved? In our work, these questions can be important to address because how people perceive and experience uncertainty can shape how they may, and may not, be willing to work in the future. Reputations and relationships can be at stake. That includes facilitators as much as participants!
Engagement as a journey into the unknown
Public and community engagement typically means bringing communities and groups of citizens together with research/project teams to build a relationship that develops a common understanding of, and acts on, mutual benefit, needs and ambitions4,5. In our experience, there can be lots of uncertainty in this process because we find that there can be a complex range of factors at play in any given group of people at any point in time.
Here we explore some of the main issues we encounter when supporting groups to work through uncertainty. Since our own practice evolves and since supporting groups of people is so context specific, offering off-the-shelf solutions is not appropriate. Instead, we discuss what we are learning from our experiences so that they may give useful insights to anyone supporting groups of people in public and community engagement activities.
One of the main issues we encounter is supporting groups to tolerate uncertainty as they simultaneously journey through it by identifying their task at hand, agree on goals and complete their work. Tolerating uncertainty may mean coping with a sense of mess and feelings of awkwardness. People can have many different views on uncertainty and different ways of coping with it. Such potential variation in ways of coping means it can be important to design facilitation processes that support groups to understand how they will manage uncertainty as a collective.
Here are some examples we have encountered and how we have supported groups:
One person’s sense of uncertainty can be another person’s certainty: when co-designing an intergenerational and participatory conference with young people, we found that the young people had ideas to contribute that stemmed from their expertise in engaging other young people. However, some of the stakeholders with less experience in engaging young people were uncertain whether these ideas would work in practice. Their uncertainty manifested in dominating the planning meetings by speaking at length about their doubts while young people around the table found they had little opportunity to voice their views. This highlighted unequal power dynamics which needed to be addressed. With the support of the younger participants, we introduced “stop talking’ and “I want to speak” cards from the IRISS co-production planner. All participants were given a set of the cards and encouraged to use them throughout the planning meetings. Using these tools helped to restore the balance of voices around the table and drew focus to how the whole group was listening and valuing contributions. Young people reflect at the end of the process that “80-90% of the things [we] suggested actually happened” – to the young people this wasn’t a surprise because they had done similar work before, but to the adults involved in planning the event, it was a surprise.
One person may be willing and able to with work uncertainty in one context but perhaps not in another depending on what they are able to influence and the contexts they face: during the GoWell project, we worked with community activists who managed to support and protect their refugee neighbours from significant uncertainty and danger caused by Home Office-instructed dawn raids. However, these same activists faced continued and unresolved uncertainty about local regeneration activities. So, they joined the GoWell Panel which collectively explored what community empowerment required and looked like in regeneration and research contexts by visiting each other’s neighbourhoods to learn about community practices across the city.
Uncertainty to one person can mean a risky venture fraught with uncertain outcomes that may be dangerous while to another person uncertainty may mean a challenging opportunity to achieve new results: we often commission agencies and artists for their skills and experience in creative engagement. Broadly speaking, among their diverse, creative talents can often be a learned and carefully crafted competence in working with uncertainty by starting with a brief or idea and then committing to a creative process. A final piece or event is anticipated but its form or quality can be uncertain. To other kinds of disciplines, including some kinds of research, this process could be intolerably uncertain!
These are very brief and oversimplified examples to make the point that within any group there can be different views on certainty that lead people to decide what tasks should and should not be undertaken as well as what can and cannot be achieved. Yes, there are many methods and tools at facilitators’ disposal they can use as well as their hard-won experience. However, given some of the factors we have briefly described that can make people’s understandings and experience of uncertainty so complex (and that’s just the tip of the iceberg), facilitating groups to navigate their options can be challenging.
So, what do we do? Helping a group to name and understand the types of uncertainty they face at the get-go can go some way to building an understanding of what can be tolerated, what cannot, and what assumed uncertainties may become certain. Conversely, what may the assumed certainties that upon greater examination are potentially very unclear and doubtful?
The extent that a group achieves its goals often carries degrees of uncertainty. However, the extent that a group is a safe space (virtual or in person) for grappling with uncertainty can be designed from the start and supported throughout. We regularly find theories and empirical studies about creative and reflective processes helpful for crafting ways of supporting people journey through uncertainty. Such methods have been shown to support psychological safety, as well as, positively impacting on both individual and collective wellbeing. We explore some of these methods in part two of this blog.
After The Pandemic is an accelerator for change, incubating and enabling creative projects that impact our society, cities and the environment for the better.
The initiative develops ideas through the collaboration of local communities, creative practitioners and like-minded organisations, in order to create, fund and deliver:
– Cultural & arts installations, programmes and content.
– Educational toolkits, design schools and research.
– Events, community engagement and outreach.
Our mission is to RETHINK, REIMAGINE and REDESIGN the world around us to be greener, more resilient and more vibrant.
After the Pandemic was co-founded in April 2020 by Lateral North, Fergus Bruce and Laura McHard, and launched on 8th May 2020 as a response to the coronavirus pandemic, the climate emergency and other converging challenges. Since launching, After the Pandemic has delivered and enabled over 40 projects with another 10 in the pipeline. We have hosted events and workshops, including a week-long design summer school in June 2020 showcasing 20 projects from students, community groups, visual and spoken word artists amongst others, and the ATP Symposium in November 2020, featuring 32 speakers from New Zealand, New York, Spain, Italy and throughout Scotland. We have seen extensive engagement at local, national and international level – from presenting work on BBC Radio Scotland’s The Afternoon Show to being featured on German TV channel ARD, with the piece being watched over 1 million times.
When COP26 was postponed to November 2021, we saw an opportunity. Many of the ideas submitted for our summer school involved access, or the lack of it, to land. Glasgow has a huge problem with vacant and derelict land. It has the highest concentration of vacant and derelict land of any local authority in Scotland, particularly in the north and east of the city, where the average Glaswegian citizen lives within 100m of a vacant or derelict site. Many of these sites have featured on Scotland’s vacant and derelict land register for decades and are located in areas of multiple deprivation, negatively impacting on the areas and on the health and wellbeing of their residents. Wouldn’t it be great, we thought, to get access to a piece of vacant and derelict land and show the potential for these sites to provide space for cultural, creative and community-focused activity in the run up to and during COP26?
Top of our wish-list was City Wharf, an area of vacant and derelict land immediately adjacent to the west of Kingston Bridge, which carries the M8 motorway across the River Clyde and through the heart of Glasgow. The site is equi-distant between the city centre and the SEC, where COP26 will take place. The site is also located in an area of Glasgow that played an integral role in the city’s rise to prominence after the Industrial Revolution as the centre of the shipbuilding industry. After a bit of detective work, we identified the landowner, Dandara, and managed to get a meeting with them. We pitched the idea of using part of the site as a ‘meanwhile’ use in the run up to and during COP26 focusing on community-based activities. To our utter delight, Dandara loved this idea and agreed to give us permission to use 3,000 sq m of the site until the end of November 2021.
So what is it we’re actually doing? The site will be a physical manifestation of our five principles, which are: Inclusive Communities; Dear Greenest Place; Learn and Grow; Local for Global and Design Forward. There will be a series of pavilions, each designed around a principle and providing space for workshops, presentations, play, exhibitions and performance. There will be a ‘timber district’, showcasing the innovations and sustainable solutions evolving in wood, both in Scotland and globally. Street art will play a huge role in bringing the space to life and making it vibrant and colourful, as well as communicating messages. The event will also be delivered digitally, for greater inclusion and engagement.
But most importantly, what will you experience if you come to our site in November, or engage with us online? We hope to highlight how innovation, creativity and design can address the climate emergency and challenges brought on by the pandemic, at a local level. We hope that it will be just the start of a journey, where people are inspired, motivated and empowered to go back to their own communities and challenge inequalities or create something unique and wonderful. We hope to foster many new relationships and connections, allowing people to share their stories and experiences with others all over the world. And by doing all of these things, we hope to create a legacy that transforms Glasgow long after COP26 has been and gone.
We’re looking to expand After The Pandemic and invite collaborators to get in touch If you want to make change in your local area, city or nation through creativity and collaboration, we want to hear from you.
Our digital Community Conversation on the 17th of June was attended by nearly 100 representatives from the public, third, and academic sectors, as well as the Scottish Government and local authorities across Scotland.
The event was the result of a collaboration between the University of Glasgow’s new #UofGEngage Forum, the Glasgow Centre for Population Health (GCPH), the West of Scotland Regional Equality Council, the Scottish Refugee Council, Active Inquiry, the Scottish Community Development Centre, community activists, campaigners, and facilitators, as well as researchers from GCPH and UofG.
The purpose was to bring people together from across sectors and hierarchies to talk about what meaningful collaboration that shares power is, why we need to work together for post-pandemic recovery, and how this can be done. We hoped this event could support us all to consider how we can, in our various roles and with our diverse experiences in the world, think about transforming how we work together as equal partners, for social justice – starting with conversations.
The programme consisted of a mixture of participatory activities, observed discussions and creative reflections. The content was co-produced with our partners and each speaker brought a unique perspective to the conversation.
Jennie Coyle, GCPH’s Communications Manager warmly hosted the event, opening with an invitation or us all to challenge ourselves to listen, participate and reflect.
I’m also here as a participant. To listen and reflect and learn. And so, although I expect and hope this afternoon will be really enjoyable and interesting and insightful, it may not necessarily be easy. And, in fact, it shouldn’t be.
A creative provocation
To begin, Gavin Crichton from Active Inquiry theatre company facilitated “a little provocation to […] shake up roles […] before the conversations”. He led us through some physical warmups, challenging us to:
think about the hat you are wearing today, the role that has brought you here […] If we’re going to have that honest conversation today, what parts of that mask that you sometimes bring to events like this are best left behind?
The workshop continued in small breakout rooms, where participants worked together to create a still image which communicated something about the problem of power inequalities between institutions and communities trying to work together. “So name the problem and then […] make an image of that problem”.
After sharing the still images with the wider group, participants were asked to return to the breakout session and were given “three wishes to change [the problem] to try to go towards a solution”. Back in the plenary session, we were all asked to take ten seconds to move from the first image [the problem] to the solutions image.
Gavin’s session helped frame our event around the central concepts of power, inequality and coming up with collective solutions.
He then passed over to Amal Azzudin, an activist and the Equality and Human Rights Officer at the Mental Health Foundation and Fakhriya Abdulkadir, a student at Glasgow University studying Community development, an activist and community development practitioner.
What does meaningful collaboration look like?
Fakhriya and Amal shared experiences of being involved in a piece of collaborative participatory action research on health and human rights. The project was funded by NHS Health Scotland and the work was carried out as a partnership between the Centre for Health Policy at the University of Strathclyde, the Health and Social Care Alliance Scotland, the Mental Health Foundation and Glasgow Homelessness Network. The research focused on how people understood the right to health and both groups worked with peer researchers from amongst the communities asked to take part – people who had experienced homelessness, and refugee and asylum-seeking women.
Fakhriya and Amal organised this observed discussion in an interview style, with Amal asking Fakhriya pre-agreed questions. Fakhriya spoke about her motivations for getting involved as a peer researcher, what she found meaningful about the process, and what she took from it:
I wanted to learn about my own human rights and the rights that I have in accessing health services, and how can I exercise these rights […]
For me, it was really empowering, because I felt that my voice was needed, and it was valued throughout the whole process of designing the research itself […] but also when designing the questions.
It was powerful […] When we started the research, it was only the researcher asking the questions. But […] the women would turn to me and answer honestly [about] their experiences and how they felt, but they also felt a connection, because I was in the room, because they kept saying “you know what I mean”. “You understand what I’m saying, you know how it is” […] So from then on, we decided that I should have a role in asking those questions as well. It was powerful […] me being in that in that room because that’s what enriched this research, having a peer researcher with the lived experience. After that I realised this is something that is needed in all areas, not just research. If you want to do something about a specific group, have someone with that knowledge and experience in the room […]
I would say what I really took from this work […] is to be mindful of who is your audience. What are you trying to gain? Why you trying to reach these groups? […] Being that peer researcher in the room […] the expert in my own experience and having that guide when we go to the community and do this focus group with people who have similar experiences as me […] I added value to this research.
After the research was put together […] we went to present [it] together. I was part of that process, all the way through from the beginning to the end […] Representation is key, not just in research in everything that we do. I can’t stress that enough.
Following Fakhriya and Amal’s observed discussion, UofG Postgraduate researcher Amanda Ptolomey offered reflections on what she heard, alongside her own experiences as a participant and researcher in collaborations:
You were talking about how powerful that experience was, and I was thinking when I’ve been involved in collaborative processes […] we take those things with us […] I was involved in something that felt really collaborative and meaningful, so I wanted to try and put that into action in the Community development practice that I do […]
I was thinking too about a project I was involved in called Scotland in Lockdown […] We had a budget for partner’s time for helping to recruit participants, for steering the direction of the project. That made sure people were actually resourced for their involvement. [It was] really important, and also how people can participate – whether that’s having data to use your mobile phone or having devices to use […]
We worked with AMINA Muslim Women’s Resource Centre who wanted to do some focus groups with the women that they had already developed really good relationships with. They have lots of expertise and capacity to work with those women, however, they hadn’t conducted online focus groups before […] We used some of our time and skills to build capacity […] Thinking about that reciprocity that people who were engaging in our research and projects can gain skills that they can take with them […]
And finally, I was thinking about lived experience and trust and thinking beyond [our] particular roles […] about the more holistic parts of our experiences as people and sharing that with others. And how many barriers that can break down in the work that we do […]
I would finish by reminding myself and calling on others […] to use Scotland in Lockdown and the project that you worked on Fakhriya and Amal, as exemplars for ways that we can work together […] If someone says that you can’t have a budget for paying partners, you can cite the Scotland in Lockdown study as a project that did. If someone says you can’t involve people with lived experience in the design of a project, show this project as an example of how well that worked and how meaningful that was for people.
Types of knowledge to address complex policy problems
The next observed discussion featured UofG researcher Claire Bynner and GCPH researcher and Chair of Saheliya, Shruti Jain. Claire offered insights into the types of knowledge needed to address complex policy problems, while Shruti outlined a systems approach to addressing systemic racism.
Claire began by offering an example of a GCPH collaboration, commissioned by a local authority to understand neighbourhood inequality: “Apart from the strategic directors, people weren’t really using [the statistics], even though they said this was what was needed”.
In response, Claire and the team carried out a new research project called ‘Making Data Meaningful’, “to understand what makes knowledge or research meaningful to people on the ground doing the frontline work”. The team interviewed frontline workers as well as community residents:
What we found from that really changed our thinking […] For example [in one] neighbourhood where there was rubbish literally everywhere […] you didn’t need empirical data to tell you had a problem […] The local waste management team [brought] in a consultant, who drew up some option appraisals [to] redesign their recycling collection scheme. Then people voted, they selected an option, and they increased their recycling by about 10%. But they still had quite a serious problem […]
The […] housing team [then] shared some insights […]. They basically said there are lots of people struggling with getting out of bed in the morning […] with brushing their teeth. And for them recycling rubbish is the last thing on their list. [They] built a lot of trust with these people and supported them through a recycling scheme, but they also referred them for help [… ] with social isolation and with a whole host of other issues.
What that story told me was that all these different services had approached the problem around neighbourhood recycling from very different perspectives […] Key to [the solution] was having those different types of knowledge.
Claire then explained that “consistently […] the types of knowledge that seemed to be important, when you’re looking at very complex policy issues aligned very well with [Greek Philosopher] Aristotle’s […] three fundamental types of knowledge”. She continued:
The first one is called empirical knowledge – verifying a claim […] looking through observations and statistics […]
The second type of knowledge […] is what we would call technical knowledge […] how you apply a principle or a rule in practice [for example] how you organise your waste management service […]
The final type of knowledge […] is what [Aristotle] calls practical wisdom or phronesis. This is the ability to combine different forms of evidence, with empathy and judgments about what action to take in a specific situation […] who’s being included who’s being excluded […]
There are no perfect solutions or perfect answers but it’s about the ability to deliberate and to weigh up those alternatives in practice. It can be quite challenging […] There are very difficult trade-offs to make. Ultimately, it’s about recognising the need to integrate these different types of knowledge.
Anti-racism and systems change
Claire then handed over to Shruti “I’m going to leave it there, because the bigger challenges is the challenge that you’re going to talk about, which is not just how to weave this together, but how would you tackle systemic racism and systems change”.
Shruti began by outlining what a systems approach is and its importance:
The system’s approach is usually needed to solve complex problems […] Racism, like tackling climate change or alleviating poverty, is a complex problem. It doesn’t have clear causes and the influencing variables can’t be easily isolated […] A system can be small like an organisation or it can be massive like society […]
Racism is a system based on race that unfairly disadvantages some individuals and communities and puts others at advantages. So far, we’ve seen isolated efforts which have delivered small scale improvements to parts of the whole problem. […] We need to see and leverage the entire system.
This includes all of the parts, and all of the relationship that exists between them […] A systems change requires us to shift the foundations that hold those complex problems in place. It basically seeks to address the root causes of the problems. And that then allows us to work towards transformational long-term change.
It’s not enough to simply improve systems [..] We need to transform them [and] disrupt them too […] It requires us to work together as a collective […] to address those root causes of the problem […] We need to address how bias and discrimination play out within the system […] but we also need to consider the historical context, from which the system has been born and continues to exist.
Any effort to change the system needs to address how [it’s] been upheld by historical and dominant practices and cultures […] rooted in whiteness and in patriarchy. So unless we explicitly address these, we aren’t going to achieve the transformational long term change […]
We’re fundamentally talking about a shift in power and without the shift in power we’re literally just tinkering around the edges. We aren’t going to achieve racial equality.
What’s happening on anti-racism in organisations in Scotland is not a great picture. I see a lot of damaging practice […] We need to bring communities and their voices right in the heart of this otherwise we’re not really going to achieve the power to change. We’ve got a lot of work to do here in Scotland on anti-racism.
Over to you
For the second half of the event, participants were placed in curated breakout rooms with experienced facilitators. They were asked to reflect on what they had heard and relate it to their own experiences. Below is a collection of reflections:
Researchers have all the power. Inputs from professional staff are not always valued.
Academic knowledge is still considered superior, therefore professional and administrative staff who have technical knowledge are not valued.
When I managed a charitable project, I felt like collaborating felt fraught and problematic because of the need to feel like each partner was getting what they needed out of the collaboration. I was always being counselled not to give away too much.
There is power in a grassroots movement of disabled people, their lived experiences evidence, data, their talents and strengths to work collaboratively and build solutions. There is influence in the numbers, but the only real power is to improve their lives through our own programmes and supports. It’s untapped potential in many ways.
An activist commented that they started with no power but gained power through education and the ability to express themselves.
[We need to] embed lived experience in training and learning for staff in agencies; empower public sector staff to think and behave differently – to codesign, to listen, to empower; embed and deliver human rights; provide access to services for those facing poverty and inequality including disabled people and those with protected characteristics; empower staff who have protected characteristics; greater investment in communities worst affected by inequalities including of identity; courageous leadership.
Decision makers need to go to communities to find out what is going on and listen to people.
Community organisations have similar language and currency of power. This is different when taking to academics.
The power of people telling their own story was familiar and energising.
Structures stop collaborations happening – people with the most power control the money and many organisations promote individualism – reward individuals for their successes.
I’m hearing all this stuff that I hadn’t really thought about in that much detail before. I realise there’s a lot to do, but I just have to just try. I think it’s planted a lot of seeds for people.
Participants were asked to finish in their breakout sessions by considering one action they could take within their own power to improve collaborations. Everyone wrote these down as pledges and held them up to the screens to form a collective vision for change.
Read all of the pledges and notes from participant breakout sessions on the event Padlet here.
To close the event, UNESCO RILA Artist in Residence Tawona Sitholé provided reflections through an original piece of poetry created from his observations. Below is just a flavour:
Graham Ogilvie from Ogilvie Design also listened in on the whole event and provided amazing illustrations which captured key themes and ideas. These will all be made available in due course, along with the event recording.
We are working with Steven Black from Brand Calibre to make a short film about the collaborative processes behind the production of this event and will update you via this blog when it is ready!
For any questions or further information about this Community Conversation, the #UofGEngage Forum or #GCPH Conversations, contact Monique Campbell or Jennie Coyle.
Thanks all for the powerful and incredibly useful event today. The dialogue sections were great and my breakout session allowed a very open and honest conversation due to excellent facilitation. We got beyond the usual starting positions much quicker than in previous conversations I’m involved in on this topic. Very powerful close with the spoken word contribution.
It was brilliant and I really hope that we can build on it as much as we can. There was a real sense of engagement.
It was wonderful. Best event I’ve ever been to. It was just really well done and moved at a good pace, so you never lost your attention. All the speakers were really passionate and good at what they do.
I really enjoyed it. Another chance for me to rant!
There was just a real energy from the very start of the session right till the very end.
There was there was a good balance of people. Seeing what troubles them, but also trying to find a way through it. There were people who are from different ends of this power dynamic so that was interesting to see how those conversations are going to work being really honest and open with each other.
We are inviting community members, organisations, researchers, and policymakers to come together and explore the many meanings, value and power of collaboration and its importance for post-pandemic recovery. We will discuss:
What sharing power through meaningful collaboration between community organisations, groups and more powerful institutions means – from relationships to co-produced research and service development.
Why we need to learn from meaningful collaborations to ensure a fair and just post-pandemic recovery.
How collaborations can be developed to truly share power with communities and why this is essential to address inequalities.
The event is being developed with third sector representatives from Active Inquiry, West of Scotland Regional Equality Council, and Scottish Refugee Council as well as the Scottish Community Development Centre and freelance practitioners, campaigners, activists and researchers from the Glasgow Centre for Population Health and University of Glasgow.
We will ask all participants (and ourselves) to pledge to change something as a result of learning from this event.
This event is now full and we are operating a waiting list. To add your name to this list, please email Carol.Frame@glasgow.ac.uk and please let us know if you have any accessibility requirements which will support your participation.
“Getting the chance to work with a large group of students from different universities has been exciting, creative and a welcome stress reliever during an unprecedented year”.
Siobhan McGeechan has had a busy year. As well as completing the final year of a BSc in Anatomy, she has worked part time as Funding Intern with the MVLS Engagement team at the University of Glasgow and made time to step into the role of University of Glasgow editor for the Glasgow Insight into Science and Technology magazine (TheGIST). Here, Siobhan reflects on her experiences as an editor and what she’s learnt along the way.
Getting (into) TheGist
Throughout my undergraduate career I have had a strong interest in science communication. I was already aware of The Glasgow Insight into Science and Technology (TheGIST), a student-led science magazine; I had registered as a contributor in my third year and written an article for them. The magazine is not just affiliated with University of Glasgow; it is a collaboration with the University of Strathclyde and Glasgow Caledonian University as well. I saw that their University of Glasgow editor was standing down at the beginning of my fourth year and although it felt like a big leap, I decided to take a chance and volunteer for the role. Now at the end of my fourth year, it’s my turn to step down and pass the role onto another student. Looking back on my year as editor, I’ve learned so much that will help me step into a science communication career.
What does an editor of TheGIST do?
The editorial role for TheGIST requires a lot of flexibility: I oversaw an editorial team of 14 students across all three universities, helping to train new contributors. I also pitched in where needed with specialist editing, copy editing, design, and even social media management. It is also the editor’s role to stay on top of deadlines for funding applications and award nominations.
While this might sound like a lot of work, I gained invaluable skills throughout that were excellent practice for future work. I now know I can confidently manage a lot of work without oversight; I know how to prioritise; and after writing several award nominations to strict specifications, grant deadlines hold no fear for me! I can also point clearly to the editorial role as evidence of these skills. It is a great way to stand out as an undergraduate, as proven by the number of board members who have gone on to launch a science communication career. If you want to know more, you can read about some of their careers in our Winter 2020 issue.
Lots of work but lots of benefits too
It might sound as if volunteering for TheGIST is all about career progression but by far, the most important thing I will take away from my time as editor is just how much fun it has been. Getting the chance to work with a large group of students from different universities has been exciting, creative and a welcome stress reliever during an unprecedented year.
Passing on the baton
If I wasn’t graduating, I would definitely be continuing my role into the coming year; but although anyone can contribute to the magazine, board members must be current students. So, it’s time to pass the baton to the next editor with the message that as much responsibility as it is, you’re going to have a great time.
If you’re interested in getting involved in TheGIST, you can find out how to here. Available board positions for the year will be advertised soon via Twitter, and you can contact the current team by e-mail at email@example.com.
In 2020 the world changed: covid-19 lockdown meant gathering in person was impossible for the UNESCO RILA Spring School, our key annual engagement event. Unable to navigate how to meaningfully move the 3-day festival online in the short time available to us, with a heavy heart we cancelled the whole event. We held a couple of online sessions for the contributors only, but we all dreadfully missed the feeling of being together and the chance encounters that the Spring School environment generates in abundance.
Now in 2021 we still find ourselves in a world where large gatherings are impossible. But with a year of experience behind us we have embraced the online space, and indeed found it has opened new opportunities to engage with participants across the world.
Our 2021 programme is full of action and reflection. We explore the ways in which the arts are used to express distress and wellbeing. Many of our sessions provide care and relief through creativity to all of us during this trying time of covid-19. We will hear reflections and stories from those who help and have been helped in the creation of refuge, from those who understand their stories as those as people seeking sanctuary and those who understand themselves as aligned to and connected through critical reflection and practical or artistic work to the movements of people saying ‘Refugees Welcome’.
Get ready to try your hand at photography, play-writing, debating, listening, walking, poetry, and meditation. To counter the increased amount of screen time a lot of us are facing, we have taken steps to care for your eyes, your mental health and your social needs, through a variety of online and offline well-being extras, including yoga, a cookery lesson and an open mic session.
Sign up for discussions, workshops, performances, presentations, collaborative art and more, celebrating and creating language, art and integration in all its forms.
The programme is free and open to everyone. You don’t have to attend the whole thing, just drop into the sessions you want to. More information and the whole programme can be found on our website and you can register via Eventbrite.
We’re happy to answer any questions about the Spring School or our other events – just email the UNESCO RILA Secretariat at firstname.lastname@example.org
We hope to see you next week!
Our past Spring Schools
In 2017 the UNESCO Chair in Refugee Integration through Languages and the Arts (UNESCO RILA) was established. The Chairholder is Prof Alison Phipps, and the team, comprising of two artists in residence, research associates and coordinators, is housed within the School of Education. Several of us had worked together before on the Researching Multilingually at Borders AHRC Project or on associated projects funded through the Global Challenges Research Fund. Part of our commitment as an UNESCO designation was to host an annual conference. Fine we said: you didn’t say what kind of conference…
We held our first Spring School 9 – 11 May 2018 out in the community at the Kinning Park complex and the Pearce Institute. For three days, the venues were transformed into an international knowledge exchange festival, where anybody interested in migration and related topics could share creative and/or linguistic practices. It was distinctly a non-conference.
“The Arts of Integrating: Stories of Refugee Hospitality and Agency” was a collection of arts-based interventions, keynotes and workshops as well as academic papers, that blended, in experimental form, both artistic and academic forms of presentation.
Oh. Did we mention the food? Catering was provided by Küche a multicultural kitchen in Glasgow, who have pretty much catered all our events since then. Food, as always, became the thing around which all else revolved. Küche is a social business creating food led events, community projects and multicultural catering in collaboration with people navigating the UK immigration system. Their mission is to provoke discussion, promote integration while celebrating minority cuisines. As their chefs cooked onsite for us, heads kept turning throughout the day wondering what that delicious smell was. We had to shoo folk out the kitchen more than once!
The next Spring School in 2019 was inspired by the exquisite one-woman performance Wind Resistance by Scottish artist Karine Polwart. Themed “The Arts Of Integrating: Labouring And Resting” we took over the Heart of Scotstoun Community Centre 1-3 May 2019.
People move, birds fly and change their song to adapt to new environments, objects circulate and there is constant resourceful traffic in ideas. We aimed to capture this resourcefulness with a focus on the arts of ‘labouring and resting.’ What is the work of integrating, who does it and how? How do new forms emerge and how are the old, precious forms of culture, art and language shared? How do languages shift and adapt, how do people learn new languages and translanguage? What does it mean to make culture, food, art in a new place, or with new people as part of integration?
To give a flavour of the diversity of expertise and experiences in community engagement across our College and beyond, below is a (non-exhaustive) collection shared through our CoSS Newsletter during 2020. Examples range from volunteering to collaborative research.
Our School of Education’s Community Development staff and students carry out a huge amount of fantastic work on an ongoing basis. Below is just a short summary. To read the full paper, follow this link.
Staff and students within the Community Development area of the school are contributing extensively to supporting their communities in a range of ways, including through involvement in local community organising crisis-response efforts, supporting neighbours with shopping, prescription and telephone assistance; making PPE equipment for NHS staff; facilitating weekly Mindfulness group sessions for staff and their families; providing emotional support to volunteers in NGOs through check-in chats, referral information and, in some cases, financial support; supporting or setting up soup kitchens; a wide range of volunteering activities with local authority and community organisations, such as: Glasgow Women’s Library, Kinning Park Complex, Independent Age, Y-Sort-It, Link Up, Find Your Branch, Inverclyde Carers Centre, Helensburgh and Lomond Community Learning, East End Flat Pack Meals, Youth Link Scotland and St.Pauls Parish Church, Blackhill.
It is important to note, that our staff and students facilitate community development practice in their workplaces and communities to offer vital support to some of the most vulnerable people in society both throughout this pandemic and before it began.
The global context in which the work takes place has changed and vulnerable people’s situations have been exacerbated, but the ethics and values of community development remain unfaltering in their commitment to work alongside communities. This work will continue to be essential long after the pandemic, in order to challenge the inequalities felt by many in society.
Riikka Gonzalez, Sustainable Food Cities Co-ordinator for the Glasgow Food Policy Partnership (GFPP) hosted by the Glasgow Centre for Population Health (GCPH) and Jill Muirie (also GCPH) have been working with the Food for Good Group (FFG). This was set up to coordinate the emergency food provision response in Glasgow.
As well as sharing information about how to volunteer and support their Crowdfunder, on the request of FFG, the University of Glasgow provided kitchen storage space, volunteers and vehicles to support this initiative. Watch a short video here to learn more and meet some of the UofG volunteers. GFPP are collecting data from the FFG project in order to evaluate it, as well as to inform the Glasgow City Food Plan currently in development.
Riikka has written a blog looking at how COVID-19 has affected and exacerbated food poverty in Glasgow, and how the community food sector has responded to the challenge. She highlights the community-led response efforts as well as the learning coming from this effort. The Sustainable Food Places Network, that GFPP is a part of, has also written a Case Study on Glasgow’s Emergency Food Responses.
Dr. Kate Reid and Professor Catherine Lido completed a 12-month commissioned research project with social enterprise and charity partner ‘Food Train’, and their impact and evidence arm, ‘Eat Well Age Well’, in February 2020. They recently held a webinar with MSPs and other stakeholders as part of the organisation’s activities for UK Malnutrition Awareness Week to highlight the need for political and policy intervention to tackle malnutrition and food insecurity. You can read more about this work here.
During the pandemic, Dr Reid also began volunteering with The Food Train and supported the mobilisation of new telephone befrienders through UofG SRC recruitment of student volunteers. She has published a blog about this experience. Through the CoSS Newsletter, we supported this effort as well as highlighting Food Train’s campaigns during Malnutrition Week (@EatWellScot using the #TimeforChangeScot) and their Christmas fundraising initiative.
Dr. Nicola Burns, from Social and Political Sciences is a Board Member of Govan Community Project (GCP).
GCP is a community-based organisation working in the south of Glasgow. Originally a community and church member response to the needs of newly arrived asylum seekers, it has developed over the years to become a local charity working with and for all the diverse communities of the Greater Govan area and beyond.
GCP provides direct services, such as, advice, information and advocacy, cultural events, a community flat, English classes, a destitution food project, hate-crime reporting and an interpreting service. In addition, the network facilitates forums bringing together public, voluntary and community organisations with local people to help plan public services, promote equal rights and opportunities and cross-cultural understanding, and to build bonds and links within and between communities.
On asking how we at UofG could support GCP, the organisation asked people to support their 2.6 Challenge or Covid-19 response JustGiving campaign page during the Pandemic and shared with us how they have had to change what they do:
GCP has adapted their services to offer as much support to community members as possible during the Covid-19 crisis. Funds raised will go towards supporting these direct services and any organisational costs incurred in adapting services to deliver them remotely. These services include Asylum Support Advice & Advocacy, Food Distribution, Staying Connected and ESOL.
Jeanette Findlay, Senior Lecturer in Economics from the Adam Smith Business School is a Board Member of charityRoyston Youth Action in the North East of Glasgow. They work with children, young people and families to provide a wide range of educational, social, physical and emotional wellbeing projects and activities. Normally their service would provide 22 weekly clubs for the local community including homework’s clubs, health groups, sports clubs, workshops, youth club drop ins and much more.
Jeanette is also a Board Member of Ceann Creige Hurling and Camogie Club in Glasgow’s East End. At UofG, we were able to support the Christmas Raffle by sharing information in our Newsletter. The club was reliant on this fundraising initiative to enable its work in providing physical activity opportunities to the local community, which support the physical and mental health of so many in this area. Their normal fundraising activities, such as bag-packing, were cancelled and they were unusually reliant on the raffle this year.
Dr. Helen Mullen from the Adam Smith Business School is a volunteer Mentor with MCR Pathways. Helen approached Monique and Zara to see how UofG could support this organisation during the Pandemic. So, we arranged a meeting to see what would be of most value to MCR. The charity wanted to engage with UofG staff who might want to become volunteer mentors with the charity and we collectively decided to host a virtual information session. This hour long session included representatives from MCR and Mentors from UofG and GCPH and was facilitate by Monique Campbell and Dr. Zara Gladman. It led to additional volunteers signing up with MCR and they have published a blog about recruitment here. Below is a blog written jointly for our CoSS Newsletter by Dr. Mullen and Sheena Fletcher, a Mentor from GCPH.
“My mentor helps me a lot … He encourages me to work harder.”
“It was a good place to go, someone to talk to and relax when you were stressed.”
These are thoughts from young people who’ve benefited from the MCR Pathways Programme, a mentoring initiative for care-experienced and disadvantaged young people. Mentoring can bring about the change they need, helping them recognise their potential and boosting the number of them that go on to college, university or employment post-school.
I only started mentoring a year ago, but I’ve seen for myself what this brilliant programme can do. It gives young people time out with someone neutral where they focus on themselves, think about goals, try new things, and access different networks.
I mentor for an hour a week at Hillhead Secondary School and got involved to ‘give something back’. What I didn’t realise was how much I would gain. The young person I work with has been an inspiration. A quiet and determined character who sticks to their goals, they have made me laugh, continually surprised me, and rewarded me with their friendship.
We have talked about home, school, videogames, music and business. We have interviewed a University colleague about career paths. We have rolled our eyes together at what frustrates us. We have discussed entrepreneurial ideas for a school project, seeing the dawning realisation that this could be a career move or an academic pursuit – “You can get a PhD in business… really?”
The support for mentors is immense – from MCR, the school and my amazing Coordinator, Eileen McLeod – and the benefits outweigh any challenges.
Sheena Fletcher, from the Glasgow Centre for Population Health, is also a mentor and based at St Mungo’s High School. “I was matched with my mentee when she was 13 and had been going through some very rough times indeed. Instead of a career and academic focus, my role was initially to be a person to talk to when things got a bit much, someone who would simply listen and always be on her side.”
“Some of the young people in the programme really benefit from having an adult in their life who isn’t a family member, teacher, social worker or police officer, but someone who is, first and foremost, their confidante.
We hit it off straight away and I made a real effort to always be open and honest with her, so she felt she could do the same. She is 15 now and our relationship is very strong and rewarding for both of us – in fact we were recently interviewed for a BBC piece about MCR. Seeing her really brightens my day and she’s always telling me I’m cool, which, from a teenager, is praise indeed!”
A few community organisations got directly in touch with us at UofG to ask us to share information about their initiatives through our networks:
Glasgow City Parents Group (GCPG) worked in collaboration with Glasgow’s Pre-Loved Uniforms and ApparelXchange CIC to provide free uniform packages across Glasgow.
Leanne McGuire (GCPG Chair) foresaw potential challenges for families purchasing school uniforms for the new school year. The service provided essential support, whilst encouraging recycling.
The service relied on donations, and appealed for items to be washed, folded, and bagged up. GCPG co-ordinated drop offs and donations were quarantined for 72 hours.
Family representatives discreetly emailed GCPG with requests. No explanation was required.
“During the month-long service, we received almost 400 requests. With uniform packages averaging 12 uniform items per child, we reused over 4000 items, reducing Glasgow’s clothing waste.
Glasgow City Council supported us, adding our service to their website and we received a donation from Teleperformance UK (Glasgow) of water bottles, lunch boxes and drawstring bags to add to the parcels”.
Realising the level of need, Leanne and Izzie (ApparelXchange Director) are already planning for next year.
“This year families may be worrying about how to afford school uniform due to the impacts of Covid-19. I wanted to make it easy and discreet to access support and give them one less thing to worry about” (Leanne McGuire)
“We are proud to be part of this partnership, supporting families across Glasgow facing uncertainty. We are also committed to the environmental impacts of clothing, and this service brings benefits to the community and our planet.” (Izzie, ApparelXchange)
“We want ALL families to save money when it comes to school uniform, that’s why our service is open to everyone”. (Donna, Glasgow Pre-loved Uniforms)
In addition to these specific support and collaboration requests and opportunities, we highlighted the work of a number of local charities and community-led organisations:
We highlighted the work of Aberlour and the Scottish Refugee Council’s Scottish Guardianship Service supporting young asylum seekers and refugees and BME-led organisation Pachedu‘ s new Heritage Lottery Community Fund to run a six- month health and wellbeing project entitled ‘Connected & Empowered’.
In response to the racist police killing of George Floyd, we highlighted the work of numerous community initiatives, groups and organisations across Scotland who’ve been at the forefront of fighting against institutional racism and discrimination nationally for decades. Many call for immediate systemic change in a wide range of areas, such as public health, employment, decolonising education curriculum, and housing and asylum policy. Included below is a small, and by no means fully representative, list of articles, educational resources and campaigns produced or highlighted over the last couple of weeks. This has been in response to the racist police killing of George Floyd, the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement and this year’s World Refugee Day (20th of June), as well as Pride Month. The links below also contain information about how to support local grassroots and national organisations and anti-racist campaigns in Scotland.
by Monique Campbell, Community Engagement Officer, University of Glasgow College of Social Sciencesand the Glasgow Centre for Population Health
My own background
When the pandemic hit and we were forced into lockdown, I had only been in the joint community engagement post with UofG and the Glasgow Centre for Population Health (GCPH) for a few months. I came from working in the third sector, mostly with grassroots community organisations – volunteering first, then being offered sessional hours and years later coordinating and managing projects. I spent six years working for a community-led Equalities charity focusing on anti-discrimination and anti-hate crime education, development projects and case work. I studied alongside this work and completed an MSc in Sustainable Development over three years – partly to afford it.
I was a youth worker, advocacy worker, interpreter, community researcher and creative workshop facilitator (often all at once due to precarious funding like so many in the third sector). I loved it. Being surrounded by diversity (such as of backgrounds, thought and identities) as well as creativity was extremely enriching. I grew up with stories of migration, asylum and refugee journeys at the heart of my own family history on my mother’s side and ‘working class struggles’ on my father’s.
The ‘Equalities world’ helped me find a place. I also supported individuals facing the sharp end of prejudice and stood beside families, including those seeking refuge, to challenge the weight of public institutions refusing to acknowledge institutional racism, sexism, ableism, classism, homophobia, transphobia… Painful examples of each stay with me. This experience was both traumatising and transformative; it helped me come to terms with the contradictions within my own identity and, particularly, my sexuality.
The centrality of critical self-reflection in community work
Working alongside others in community settings taught me more than I could ever have learned from books. I have made assumptions and gotten things very wrong and I have been rightly brought down a peg for naïve ideas. I have faced prejudice and discrimination myself, as a gay woman, and as a community worker. And my skills, knowledge, and experience have been dismissed as ‘anecdote’ by more powerful individuals and organisations. But I also experience numerous privileges – such as white and class and have been lucky enough to travel and live in Latin America.
My relationship with these identities is complex and it has taken me years to write these sentences without immediately deleting them. And I do not suggest that the level of openness I am sharing here is comfortable for everyone. This is a choice for each of us working in these roles to make. However, whilst working with various groups as a case worker, I was asked to ‘speak for’ communities whom I couldn’t possibly represent and had no right to speak for, as my own lived experience is far removed. Community work – development, engagement, organising – is deeply personal and deeply political. In my view, it requires a constant interrogation of our own place in the world and the influence our life experiences have on the assumptions we make and actions we take as a result. Even if these interrogations are only for our own clarity of motivation.
Critical reflection in institutional settings
Immediately before joining UofG, I had been working with Shelter Scotland in their first Community Organiser post. This experience taught me the importance of looking inwards, critically, at cultures and ways of working in organisations attempting to shift to community-led approaches to research, campaigning and delivering services. I learned there is no shortcut. One or two ‘bottom-up’ initiatives will rarely transform centuries-old hierarchies. Where traditional societal structures are built on deeply embedded inequalities and ‘isms’, the only way to truly transform our ways of working, must be to dismantle, unlearn, relearn, and rebuild. But first we have to acknowledge and recognise that power imbalances are always at play. And this is certainly no different in universities.
We need to open up difficult conversations within our institutions in order to support ongoing critical-self and critical-institutional reflection. Again, this has got to be done carefully and safely. In my experience, there is a danger that this work can cause harm and burnout to those involved if not very skillfully crafted. To do this, I believe it is helpful to look to community organisations with a wealth of experience in consciousness raising efforts as well as anti-prejudice and anti-discrimination work. Within these contexts, many people and groups have spent decades considering ‘what works’ to facilitate conversations safely and to support each other to deal with trauma, whilst building relationships of trust and reciprocity.
What do values have to do with Community Engagement?
Community engagement (CE) is a set of principles and practices which must acknowledge its own historic connection to imperialism and colonisation: white, middle-class, western men engaging with the ‘Other’, such as in some early anthropological studies. CE therefore also needs constant scrutiny and vigilance to ensure we as practitioners are not reestablishing, enabling or compounding oppressions and inequalities in our work. This requires commitment and is not easy.
The National Standards for Community Engagement, are an example of a set of principles in Scotland which exist to “improve and guide the process of community engagement”. These standards can be said to be based on the values of equality and social justice in that they aim to support communities to “take action on their own needs and experiences”. The extent to which this is possible and is further enabled by community engagement practitioners can vary significantly, however. And this, in my opinion, can depend on a wide range of factors. For example: the institutions we work for and within, their values and the priorities which are set based on these values; the funding we receive to carry out our work and priorities set by those funders based on their institutional values; and our own personal worldviews and life experiences.
To untangle this complexity, I have found it helpful to start by examining my own values and to consider how my own life experiences influence how I see the world and inform my assumptions and actions. Deliberately trying to create a less-hierarchical operating structure, a culture of openness and transparency and facilitating spaces (such as workshops or virtual conversation cafes) which explicitly acknowledge power imbalances and attempt to redress them through participatory methods used for facilitation, can enable more open, honest discussions.
Sharing our experiences and critically challenging ourselves and our institutions can help us to build a culture of trust, where relationships based on the values of equality and reciprocity are respected first and foremost. We have to be open to criticism, reflection (about ourselves and institutions) and to change. We will make mistakes and we will get things wrong, but crucially we will also learn and do better if we decide we want to.
Learning from our university and local communities through crowdsourcing
Learning about the work and expertise of so many of our UofG colleagues, students and community partners throughout the pandemic has been humbling and inspiring. There is an energy, personal drive and commitment to collaborate, to learn from each other and fundamentally to social justice.
We have been sharing some of our University communities’ stories as well as campaigns and initiatives from community partners through the College of Social Sciences Newsletter throughout the pandemic. To collect these examples, we launched a crowdsourcing initiative in April 2020. This ‘open ask’ through a collaborative document open to the whole University has enabled a greater understanding of the range of experiences and partnerships across CoSS – from volunteering to collaborative research.
It has also enabled relationship building, internally across our university community, as well as with partners. We now have another mechanism through which we can listen to and learn from community expertise, concerns, priorities and respond to requests for support from our internal university community and external partners. This community-led principal has been at the heart of developing #UofGEngage.
Co-creating a new ‘values-based’ virtual space to enable learning and collaboration.
The purpose of the #UofG Engage Forum is to bring people together as equals (students, staff, partners) to share and learn from each other in an open, transparent way, acknowledging that everyone has valuable insights no matter where their experiences come from, their role within UofG or the size of their organisation. The #UofG Engage Forum has so far consisted of events, a podcast and blog space but we are always ready to learn and try new things. We recognise many existing barriers to inclusion in this virtual space and are actively working with others to overcome them.
The Forum is facilitated by a group of staff from across all four UofG Colleges, and partners, and is open to, and keen to engage, new members. We welcome students and staff (from academia to professional services) as well as partners who feel this Forum could be of benefit to their work. We will actively seek to ensure diversity (relating to protected characteristics and all marginalised groups, academic discipline, thought, and status within and outwith the University) at decision-making level and throughout the Forum content.
Fundamentally the Forum aims to support relational engagement, guided by the values and principles of equality and social justice, in whatever context that may take place.
How you can get involved with #UofGEngage
We know there is so much more incredible engagement work going on across the CoSS, the University and beyond. We will continue to use the CoSS Newsletter and #UofGEngage platforms to share experiences of community engagement, community-led support requests and opportunities for collaboration and learning.
To see what others are telling us about their ideas for the Forum, or to tell us your own thoughts anonymously, check our Padlet. Contact Monique Campbell or Zara Gladman if you would like to share a blog, record a podcast, or suggest a theme for #UofGEngage event.