When distinct worlds join hands, the possibilities for innovation and transformation are immense. Such was the theme of a recent conference organised by the Public Law Project on Legal Research for social impact. Martin Collett, our very own Chief Executive of English Rural, together with Prof. Helen Carr from the University of Southampton, delivered a presentation on the power of co-producing research. Their discussion focused on the fruitful collaboration between academia and non-academic entities and the mutual benefits it brings to the world of research and societal impact.
The journey began with a pertinent issue: rural homelessness. The problem had been escalating for nearly a decade, and the intervention strategies lacked specific references to a rural context. Recognising the urgency, the Universities of Southampton and Kent, English Rural, and a host of rural experts decided to bring their collective expertise together. By pooling resources, they aimed to tackle this complex issue head-on. The aim of the collaborative research, led by Kent University’s Dr Carin Tunåker, was to approach the problem from both an academic and practical standpoint to create comprehensive, effective solutions.
While academia excels in providing rigorous research methodologies and insights, organisations like ours – English Rural – brought our on-the-ground experience and understanding of the current policy landscape to the table. This harmonious partnership led to an enriched perspective, bridging the gap between theoretical research and real-world challenges.
This unique collaboration didn’t just benefit the project at hand; it was a win-win for both academia and our organisation. The co-production of research amplified the strengths of each party, resulting in a more impactful approach to addressing rural homelessness.
Academia’s contribution was pivotal in providing the scientific rigour needed to study the complex issue. Their objective approach and robust methodologies ensured the credibility of the research findings. Meanwhile, English Rural, and other organisations involved in the project brought vital practical insights and access to critical networks.
By unifying these strengths, the collaboration was able to propose practical policy recommendations rooted in robust evidence. This perfect fusion of academic research and real-world insights enriched the project and amplified the effectiveness of the solutions proposed.
Beyond enriching the research and enhancing the solutions, the collaboration also widened the project’s reach. Our combined resources were leveraged to transform the research findings into a dynamic media campaign. With the NGOs’ strong media connections, we launched a powerful social media campaign that captured the public’s attention and opened dialogue on the pressing issue of rural homelessness.
The campaign was a resounding success, achieving over one million impressions and securing coverage on prominent news outlets, including BBC News. This significantly increased website referrals and user engagement, showing the impressive reach made possible through our collective networks. The successful media campaign also showcased the exciting potential of academia and organisations collaborating to bring research to the public domain.
The collaboration has set a precedent for future projects. The partnership has opened avenues for additional academic outputs, potential funding opportunities, and the potential to internationalise the research. In effect, it has expanded the horizon for future collaborations that can continue to drive impactful change.
As part of our ongoing efforts, we are establishing a ‘rural homelessness counts’ coalition. This formal coalition aims to maintain the focus on rural homelessness on the national agenda and develop effective policies and practices at the local level. Through these initiatives, we strive to keep the momentum going and continue the conversation about rural homelessness.
The tale of this successful collaboration serves as an inspiring lesson for other partnerships aiming to tackle societal issues. It emphasises the powerful synergies that can be harnessed when academic rigour is combined with practical experience and public interest. More importantly, it underscores the profound social impact that such a collaborative approach can have.
The presentation by Martin Collett and Prof. Helen Carr spotlighted this power of co-production of research. This tale of collaboration offers an insightful blueprint for future partnerships, sparking hope and anticipation for the societal changes we can drive together.