CSO-academic collaboration: theory and practice

Schoen, Victoria, Durrant, Rachael, Fishpool, Mark and Dooris, Mark T orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-5986-1660 (2017) CSO-academic collaboration: theory and practice. Project Report. Food Research Collaboration, London.

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The Food Research Collaboration has at its heart the bringing together of academics and civil society organisations with a common interest in UK food policy. Over the last three years it has strived to encourage collaboration between organisations on joint ventures including a workshop in October 2016 on CSO-academic collaboration and the potential for pursuing this in the face of increasingly challenging economic and political circumstances. This Briefing Paper stems from this workshop and offers a review of the literature on collaboration as well as a summary of the four case studies presented on the day.
The literature on joint working between academics and civil society suggests that at a time of austerity and reduced financial resources available for research, and given the complexity of current environmental, societal and political difficulties, the most advantageous way forward is to work collaboratively to ensure the best use of scarce resources to achieve positive change. There is not a long history of such co-working, except for, perhaps, in the field of international development, where the literature is more abundant. Current thinking, perhaps driven by the “Impact” element of the university sector REF exercise, is that collaboration should occur throughout the research process, from identification of a research problem
through to completion of a final report, contrary to the traditional, linear model where the CSO provides the respondents and the academic provides the expertise. There is some overlap in the justification for collaboration at the institutional level – for achieving (and demonstrating) impact, for accessing respondents or experience and for filling gaps in expertise – and there are challenges to be overcome if the collaboration is to be a success. Some of these are illustrated in the four case studies presented here (Food Research Collaboration, Brighton and Sussex Universities Food Network, Middlesbrough Environment City, Sustainable Food North West Research Collaboration): the differing time scales which academics and civil society organisations might work to; the availability of funds to work on co-produced projects and the views of other staff and research recipients to the engagement of third parties in the research process. As the case studies make clear, these challenges are less significant when placed alongside the satisfaction that joint working can bring to the individuals involved as well as the benefits to the collaborating organisations and wider community.

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