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Integration into Research Teams Case Study

Case Study - Integrating Research Users into Research Teams  

KE can benefit from avoiding preconceptions about the role stakeholders should play. Professor Alister Scott outlines how an initiative within the Rural Economy and Land Use (Relu) Programme achieved success by creating a ‘soup’ that deliberately blurred boundaries between researchers and research users. 

The aim of the Managing Environmental Change at the Fringe project was to pinpoint better ways of managing places where the town meets the countryside. Historically, the rural-urban fringe has suffered from the chaos of unrelated decisions, largely because it’s a frontier zone not just in a physical sense but also between natural and social sciences, between the natural and built environment, between spatial planning system and ecosystem-led approaches, and between researchers and policy-makers/practitioners.

We needed to break down these barriers and bring together parties who think in very different ways and generally don’t communicate with each other very effectively. For instance, many environmental scientists don’t really understand the planning process and many planners haven’t even heard of the ecosystem approach. Above all, we wanted to avoid the usual way of operating whereby stakeholders are simply brought together at various milestones within the project for a token discussion of the findings.

Embedded from the word go, our philosophy was that there should be a single project team embracing both researchers and stakeholders, where everyone was equal.

This wasn’t going to be an initiative where academics worked in splendid isolation. Academia, policy and practice all had something important to contribute and something to learn, so everyone was a researcher and research user. As such, all participants received remuneration for their time.

While it was challenging to find people willing to work outside their comfort zones, this approach gave us a unique chance to integrate different outlooks.  

Team members benefited from the opportunity to incorporate others’ perspectives into their own work and to identify areas of common ground. Adopting this novel way of working meant we didn’t just recycle existing knowledge, which might have happened if everyone had stayed inside the ‘bubble’ of their own niche interest. Instead, the creative fusion generated innovative tools for day-to-day use, such as video policy briefs and ‘RUFopoly’ – a giant board-game exploring rural-urban fringe issues and already used by Government, schools and voluntary groups.

Other projects are already harnessing the unique capacity we built – for instance, members of our group are involved in the follow-on phase of the National Ecosystem Assessment.