Asking the big questions at the Unusual Suspects Festival…

Creating change requires collaboration, don’t be afraid of conflict and tension – friendly fire” Rachael Brown

Last month, colleagues from across the world of social innovation came together in Glasgow to build connections, challenge the status quo and create new ideas as part of the Social Innovation Exchange’s ‘Unusual Suspects Festival’.  The Yunus Centre at GCU played host to a number of events throughout the Festival, perhaps most notably, our opening session chaired by renowned Scottish social entrepreneur Rachael Brown.

This session set itself the ambitious task of examining the role that universities and academic research can play within local communities. Utilising the work of the Yunus Centre as a lens, it aimed to open the floor to discussion and debate on the methods through which social impact can be measured and bring academics, practitioners and community groups together to discuss the changing needs of the sector.  After successfully overcoming the obligatory IT problems, the session was successfully kicked off with an inventive icebreaker session from colleagues from SiX and a warm introduction to the Centre from Rachael and Prof. Cam Donaldson.

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Using Q Methodology to prioritise health care choices

Amongst the wide range of presentations and discussions, a ‘hands-on’ priority setting exercise was undertaken by Centre staff which successfully sparked debate amongst participants. Q Methodology – a methodology championed by leading Q researchers within the Yunus Centre – aims to reveal how people think and make decisions about certain topics. This process enabled attendees to make a series of choices ranking how important they felt certain initiatives or policies were to improving the health of people of Glasgow. This proved to be a conduit for an interesting debate about approaches to public health – and how individuals prioritise these decisions. Attendees spanned the range from academia to practise to community activism and it was especially interesting to see what issues individuals converged around and which served to split opinion within the room. Discussion centred on topics such as the value of work vs. volunteering, national policies such as minimum pricing of alcohol and even touched on the legacy of last year’s Commonwealth Games.

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Making choices…and sparking debate.

Overall, a key theme to emerge from this session was the need to create space for collaboration – collaboration between academics, policymakers and community members. Marlieke Kieboom, highlighted the work of her organisation, Kennisland, in making this goal a reality in the Netherlands. Marlieke describes herself as a “pracademic” – mixing research and practise in her day to day work. She presented ‘Feed Forward Stories’, a methodology developed by Kennisland that aims to actively engage stakeholders from grassroots community groups all the way up to the governmental level, to co-produce research and build citizens into the system of knowledge based policymaking.

This, however, raises a point that as researchers we all grapple with; ‘how do we match innovative methods of impact measurement with the traditional evidence-based outcomes desired by universities and funders alike?’ In other words, how do we balance academic rigour and the peer review process with the increasing call to co-produce knowledge and research with citizens and communities? There is growing recognition that community engagement must be inextricably linked to traditional academia. How this is put into practise, participants agreed, will require new ways of working together across the sector. Sharing stories, innovative methodologies and best practise was recognised as integral to any success in meeting this challenge.

Asking the big questions, challenging preconceptions and developing new and exciting ideas was precisely the aim of this session, and the festival more generally. Events such as the Unusual Suspects Festival break down the walls between traditional domains of academia, policy and practise and, it is hoped, will act to gradually build the connections and collaborations needed for real social change.

Many thanks to all our speakers and attendees on the day as well as the hardworking festival organisers from Social Innovation Exchange! For more information please visit the Festival website or the SiX homepage.

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