My blog post is a bit later than usual today. That’s because I didn’t have any stored up. And that’s because I’ve been so occupied and preoccupied for the last two weeks I just haven’t got around to writing. Indeed, for much of this time my brain has been full of ethnographic notes, new ideas and seminar discussions. I was of course blogging ethnography on another site, but ideas for patter remained half-formed somewhere in the back of my mind. So when I woke up this morning there was not only nothing in reserve, but I also had no firm ideas of what to write about next.
I worried. Is now the time to go back to one post a week? Two posts a week was always going to be ambitious. Perhaps this is it from now on. I’m only up to one thought every seven days … Running out of posts felt rather like letting the car get down to the very bottom of the petrol tank and then panicking when it ran out 100 metres from the petrol station. Nothing in reserve! Gasp, what now?
Well, I can report that I’ve pushed the car to the pump and am now all tanked up. Ready to roll, ready to write. So what did it for me? Why the change? Perhaps surprisingly, getting writing was down to another meeting.
I was dreading getting on yet another train early this morning. I’d recently been persuaded to go for a new research project and while it was of interest I was/ am already pretty stretched with projects. After the week on ethnography I was also tired. My meeting was with the new funders and it was about timelines, contracts, milestones. Pretty riveting stuff on top of a two hour train trip. So understandably, I wasn’t raring to go at 6am this morning.
I’m writing this post on the way home on the train after the meeting and I’m now feeling pretty enthused about the project. I can even face a blog post, albeit a late one.
The meeting made me think again about research relationships, about how good it is when you work with people that you like and when the research is about something that you both think is important and worthwhile. I think I’m really going to get on with this new funder. What’s also relevant to this post and my train-supported thinking is that three days of seminar were connected with this feeling… It’s probably no accident that the seminar was about the co-production of research.
I remember saying to someone at the seminar that I’ve got to the point now where I rarely dream up a research question myself. Most of the time I am either
– already in a conversation with a partner where research questions and projects just emerge, or
-responding to a need that someone has expressed, often though a direct request for assistance, or
– very occasionally submitting a bid for a tender but only when it’s something that I’ve already got work to build on and when I’m pretty sure the organisation tendering is one which has similar values and commitments to me.
The meeting today was in the latter category.
I was really happy to agree to check in with the funder every couple of week and to share the research schedules. I also invited the funder to share a research Dropbox, and to come along on one of the case study visits. I see no reason to be hands off with them and every reason to think the research will be better if the knowledge they have is in sustained dialogue with our understandings and with the ongoing research. We also had a good plot together about how to deal with the findings, given who we both want to influence the most.
Why did I agree to this much contact? Am I giving up my academic freedom or my objectivity? I don’t think so. My experience with this kind of research relationship is that it’s absolutely not about surveillance or about the process being skewed. In fact, this kind of research relationship only works if trust, openness and honesty are at its heart. When this happens, a research relationship is highly energising.
While officially this kind of research might be called engaged, be seen to have impact or be understood as coproduction or anything else that’s in fashion, the reality for me is that it’s just personally/professionally rewarding to know that I can put my research capacities to a good cause. The fact that this means that I can – no I must – have ongoing conversations that are mutually informing, stimulating and useful means that the process becomes a pleasure, rather than simply a necessity.
So that’s my post. In praise of engaged coproduction. Or, alternatively… that was a really great meeting. I’m certainly looking forward to working with you.