This December, MARGISTAR’s Antonia Egli presented the COST Action’s research poster at Dublin City University’s Engaged Research Festival, hosted by DCU’s Centre for Engaged Research. In this blog, the Centre’s Coordinator, Luke Quinlan, takes a closer look at the meaning and potential of engaged research, as well as the challenges and barriers associated with its practices.
On December 11, 2023, DCU’s Centre for Engaged Research hosted the Engaged Research Festival with international speakers and approximately fifty visitors from Dublin City University’s five faculties to celebrate collaborative research engagement with local, regional and national communities. This event highlighted those who work in partnership with community stakeholders to address societal issues. But what exactly is engaged research, how is it impacting scholarship and societal change, and how can projects like MARGISTAR support its development?
What is engaged research?
Engaged research has emerged as a dynamic paradigm that goes beyond traditional research methodologies. This approach embraces collaborative frameworks that involve both experts and non-experts to foster equitable relationships and amplify stakeholders’ voices. Engaged research encompasses approaches like collaborative creation and research that serves communities and the democratisation of knowledge.
Key elements of engaged research practices include:
- Fostering fair interdependence,
- Engaging both experts and non-experts,
- Supporting meaningful participation,
- Generating positive social impact,
- Democratising knowledge,
- Emphasising stakeholder voices.
Adopting engaged research methodologies is often the most effective way to capture authentic perspectives and experiential data from community participants, thereby adding depth to research and enhancing the impact of research outcomes. This approach, along with cultivating fairer and more ethical researcher-community relationships across diverse contexts, has motivated many to integrate engaged research practices into their studies. Common themes include empowering communities, certain disciplines shifting toward a more design-oriented research strategy, increased inclusivity, and acknowledging past mentors and pioneers within the field.
What are barriers to engaged research?
Although there are quite significant benefits to conducting engaged research and working collaboratively with community partners, there are considerable barriers to engaging in such a research practice.
For researchers, working collaboratively with non-academic partners like community organisations, governmental bodies, or commercial business, often adds additional tasks to a researcher’s workload, increasing a project’s timeline significantly. Engaged research, especially research which prioritises co-design, is often more resource intensive. Researchers must also make considerable efforts to cultivate and sustain community relations; continued communication between researchers and community partners is essential as academic research is often a long and slow process. Community partners must be kept informed and reassured that their interests and their benefits are at the core of a research project. In an effort to make positive societal change, engaged research can be unconventionally arduous.
Systemically, within academic institutions, there has been a noticeable change in the research funding ecosystem as engaged research, public engagement, and societal impact has come to the fore in many funding calls. This has highlighted engaged research practices, meaning that certain methodologies, such as co-creation and co-production, are becoming more popular. However, many institutions must still implement significant structural change to facilitate engaged research. These may include increased and/or more specific funding solely for public engagement activities, efforts to address bureaucratic barriers such as ethical uncertainties with community partners, increased opportunities for capacity building for both researchers and community partners to encourage synergetic relationships, and increased recognition and reward for those pursuing engaged research practices. For early-career researchers, engaged research must be made an accessible and favourable practice.
Engaged research comes in many forms and its diversity can be seen across the academic disciplines. However, and with all of its benefits (including more authentic research findings and purposeful outcomes for community partners), there are considerable challenges which are posed to researchers. Continued efforts are needed so research that truly benefits society can be delivered.
MARGISTAR at the DCU Engaged Research Festival
MARGISTAR representative Antonia Egli had the pleasure of introducing the COST Action to visitors and fellow academics at Dublin City University’s Engaged Research Festival. To download the full poster, click here.
Antonia Egli & the MARGISTAR Research Poster
The Festival also saw an array of keynote speakers and panel discussions, welcoming, amongst others, Ronnie Munck (Director of the Centre for Engaged Research at DCU), Rajesh Tandon (UNESCO Co-Chair on Community-Based Research & Social Responsibility in Education), Luz Espiro (Anthropology & Migration Lecturer at the Technical University of Applied Sciences Würzburg-Schweinfurt), and Nicolette Fox (Community University Partnership Programme Manager at the University of Brighton). Speakers shared insights on the global implications of engaged research, emphasising the critical role it plays in fostering community empowerment and social responsibility, and provided insight into the practical implementation of intersectional engaged research.
Engaged Research Festival Expert Roundtable (Speaker: Lucy Whiston, PPI Ignite Network)
The Festival also introduced recommendations recently published by the Centre for Engaged Research for those working in the field. In the future and particularly in light of upcoming case studies with mountain stakeholders, MARGISTAR will use these as guidelines for its own research efforts. They are:
- Disseminate methods: Share insights into the research methodology in support of an evolving landscape that prioritises user-centric approaches and open innovation. Share this knowledge both with the public and within academic circles to serve the broader community.
- Constantly develop capacities: The necessity to foster capabilities spans local, national, and international levels. Universities and research centres play a pivotal role in fostering a cultural shift towards embracing collaboration and utilising shared learning platforms.
- Foster collaborative community-university relationships: Establishing partnerships with diverse communities, including public entities, community organisations, social services, healthcare providers, and local authorities, is essential. This collaborative approach aims to formulate effective research strategies and implement tangible initiatives. Seeking a variety of partnerships enables researchers to gain a comprehensive understanding of societal dynamics and requirements.
- Address societal challenges: To promote social unity, there is a deliberate need to tackle local social issues, socio-economic disparities, improve access to higher education and employment opportunities, and bridge the digital divide. Engaged research is the avenue through which a more just and equitable society can be pursued.
- Support collaborative creation with and within communities: Effectively addressing social concerns requires genuine and meaningful collaboration with communities. Through such partnerships and collaborative efforts, leveraging both expertise and experiential insights, researchers can actively contribute to positive societal transformations.
DCU’s Centre for Engaged Research promotes and facilitates meaningful and impactful research through its support for engaged research theory and practice. Active engagement with society such as with community organisations or vulnerable and/or marginalised groups can offer indispensable knowledge and in turn play a key role in policy-making and addressing social issues. Actively involving the public in the research process empowers communities to positively influence change, be it at a local, regional or national level. Through engaged research the subject, the community, is placed at the heart of research and included throughout the various research stages.