A busy week of workshops in the run up to the Easter break.  On Monday myself, Saskia and Kerry were invited to a workshop run by Catherine Durose of INLOGOV here at the University of Birmingham.  The theme was ‘How can research help policy?’ and was an opportunity to hear more about the Connected Communities Policy Reviews which Catherine among others have been undertaking.  Sue Hanshaw, the ARHC’s lead for Connected Communities tackled the central theme – just how can arts and humanities research help policymakers.  This kicked off a really interesting day of reflection and discussion about the nature of Arts & Humanities research, both methodologically and epistemologically.  The theme of co-production was prominent as were issues of scale – if, for example, making pots can do a great deal for wellbeing, is it the haptic knowledge of actually working with clay that the policy maker needs, or something more abstracted from embodied practice?  Fascinating stuff and great to meet Dave Prytherch to discuss these issues.  We also learned about ‘slide packs’ which have apparently become the prefered mode of communication between civil servants.  Digesting all your findings down to a handful of tightly packed PowerPoint slides is a skill in itself for academics more used to the more leisurely spaces of a written report.  And a touch intimidating too.

On Tuesday myself, Antonia and Richard were at a workshop kicking off the University of Birmingham’s new major theme for its Institute of Advanced Studies – regeneration economies.  Antonia and Richard gave highly engaging talks as part of a session thinking about joining up social science, arts, legal and engineering approaches to build knowledge and skills for the future of regional economic growth.  The regeneration economies theme will be the basis for a whole series of workshops run over the next 18 months by my colleagues Lauren Andres (Geography) and John Bryson (Business School) and it was really great to see postgrads and masters students involved in this right from the beginning.

The main event of the week (naturally!) was our Project Continuity Day.  These six monthly meetings are always a great way to catch up with what everyone is doing and start to see the connections between the different work packages that we’re working on.  What was particularly exciting was to see how Ian and Natasha’s work on the historical evolution of intermediation was playing against the work that Beth, Karen and Saskia have been doing on contemporary governance – not least with the ‘Big Story’ interviews that Natasha and Saskia have been undertaking with people who have a long perspective on culture within Birmingham and Manchester.  Similarly Dave presented about the possibility of using participatory evaluation on the intervention work package.  This approach, which gets participants to design and implement their own evaluation of the project they’re involved in has a lot of resonances with the co-construction and co-commissioning of the interventions that we’re planning.  Indeed, Paul’s discussion of how the ‘Communities’ workpackage will operate has made it clear that we need to start thinking about the interventions (particularly training of community participants) at a very early stage.  Myself, Dave and Paul have resolved to meet after Easter to start a conversation about this.

We had a really productive set of small group discussions about the findings from the Governance workpackage thus far.  In my group we were thinking about the different attitudes between the two case study cities – Chris Jam and Jo Johnston noting the great confidence of Manchester about its cultural offer, which contrasts so strongly with attitudes in Birmingham.  It was also great to hear from Tim about his reflexive project – thinking  about how researchers actually function when undertaking projects and how these practices then shape the research itself.  This of course segues neatly into Laura’s PhD – Laura was presenting for the first time at Wednesday’s meeting and it was really interesting to hear about her background and what she’s been up to.  And we should also welcome Tania to the team, who’s going to be working with Antonia on a PhD about IP in the context of the creative economy (just as soon as we’ve finished sorting out the paperwork for getting her started!).  I had a really interesting chat with her over lunch about just how often IP is being raised in lots of Connected Communities meetings as being a critical issue to think through – her PhD has the potential to have a huge impact on debates within the Connected Communities group.

Image of the group discussions in do.collaborationIn the afternoon we had an opportunity to enter Richard’s lair/Batcave – do.collaboration.  This is a great resource at the university with a huge number of large touchtable interfaces to play with.  Richard, Russell and our graphic designer Brigitte were asking us to think through ways in which we can build tagging frameworks within the data (transcripts, films, audio, pictures) which can then be explored via a touchtable interface and, indeed, in a more detailed way on our website.  This is particularly exciting because our server was being installed on  Thursday so we’ll be up and running with building our project database by the end of the Easter break.  Ultimately for all the “boys toys” elements of this side of the project, the fundamental point is to give people access to our findings in ways that a normal/static website wouldn’t really do.  I’m particularly excited by the visual ways of drilling down into different data and identifying connections.  Once we have the server up and running, Russell and Brigitte are going to start building pilot versions of the interface – hopefully so we have something tangible to look at by the next project continuity day (date to be confirmed!).

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