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New fund puts communities ‘at the heart’ of research

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UKRI and The Young Foundation announce £4m in new funding for Community Research Networks, supporting local engagement in research.

  • Over the next four years, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) will invest more than £4m to support community-led research networks
  • The funding aims to create sustainable Community Research Networks that can address local knowledge needs and build greater equity in research and innovation (R&I)
  • Seed Funding of up to £500,000 (£25,000 per project) is available for community organisations, charities and research organisations to explore collaboration. 
  • UKRI and The Young Foundation are developing programmes, supporting projects, and building evidence to understand how communities can play a more active role in R&I. 
  • New research, delivered by The Young Foundation’s Institute for Community Studies, highlights a need to direct funding towards local collaborations, putting communities at the heart of research production to truly address power imbalances.

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and The Young Foundation, the UK’s home for community research and social innovation, have published a new report on community collaboration in R&I, and announced funding to support greater community power over knowledge production. 

The report explores the potential impact of investment in sustainable and equitable community collaboration in R&I. Conducted by The Young Foundation’s Institute for Community Studies, under the guidance of a Steering Group with input from representatives at more than 50 local and community organisations, this research demonstrates that new engagement and partnership approaches are needed to create more equitable research. Furthermore, it finds that investing in infrastructure and capacity-building is needed to build recognition of, and give support to, knowledge produced by communities. 

This research highlights a rich mix of charities, community and research organisations, local authorities and collectives currently working on research with local communities, but shows this system is disconnected from – and has been undervalued by – the formal R&I system. Traditional approaches to funding community research, which have largely favoured short-term projects where communities play limited roles and cannot set the agenda, have done little to change this picture.   

Over the next four years, UKRI will invest more than £4m to create a cohort of Community Research Networks. The funding will support grassroots groups, community organisations, charities, research organisations and local government as they develop the capacity to produce research collaboratively, and partner and connect with research institutions and organisations. 

The expression of interest phase is now open and will provide a total pot of £500,000 in ‘expression of interest’ grants for organisations to spend developing proposals for Community Research Networks. The approach to funding is deliberately open-minded to create space for groups and collaborators to propose activities they believe would be valuable to them in scoping out the shape of their research network. Funding of £25,000 per project is available to applications that explore how a network could solve need such as:

  • building relationships
  • developing and sharing knowledge
  • local capacity-building and research

For those interested in applying, support is available from The Young Foundation.  

Funding from the Expression of Interest phase must be used to support the collaborative development of bids for the Implementation phase, with activities such as hosting workshops, engaging communities, convening discussions and building partnerships.   

The implementation phase will open in April 2023, providing long-term, sustained funding to implement and embed Community Research Networks over three years. A further £3.5m has been allocated for this Implementation phase, which will support a minimum of five networks.   

Tom Saunders, Head of Public Engagement at UKRI, says:
“Research can involve professional scientists sequencing the DNA of viruses in laboratories or academic historians analysing source material in archives. But research is also something that everyone does: asking questions and trying to make things work better, in their lives and for their communities.  

“The Community Research Networks programme will help communities play a more active role in research and innovation, engaging with and influencing the research of universities and research institutions and carrying out research that is useful to them and the challenges that they face.  These networks are one way that UKRI is delivering on its vision for an outstanding research and innovation system that gives everyone the opportunity to contribute and to benefit.”

Emily Morrison, Head of The Young Foundation’s Institute for Community Studies, says: 

“We are heartened that the contribution by community members to this research and the recommendations made have resulted in UKRI making an immediate and long-term commitment.  Today’s funding announcement is a welcome investment in infrastructure that supports communities to collaborate on research that matters to them. This is a significant step towards a more inclusive system where power and funding does not just go to the usual suspects. Our research clearly shows we can only shift power in community engagement in research if we also democratise funding and skills, challenge perceptions of what knowledge is valued, and listen to what local people know they need. I hope these new Community Research Networks will pilot exciting approaches that are useful to, and owned by, communities, strengthening the landscape of local knowledge production in the UK.” 

Find out more about the fund and how to apply and read the scoping research.

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