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Supporting communities of becoming

Kate Swade

Shared Assets led a week-long training course for early stage researchers on collaborative working and working with communities. Read Kate’s blog to find out more.

We’ve been looking for chance to work with Alex Franklin ever since she came to Shared Assets’ very first event in 2012, and we realised how closely aligned her research interests were to our mission.  So we were really pleased when she asked us to be partners in a new EU-funded training network that she was pulling together.

RECOMS is an EU (Marie Curie) funded “innovative training network”. It is funding 15 early stage research fellows to do PhDs in subjects relating to resourceful and resilient communities. The fellows are based in different northern European universities, but come from all over the world – from Mexico, China, the USA, Spain, Finland, Romania, the UK and more.

RECOMS kicked off with an initial meeting in Vaasa, Finland, which Kate was very excited to attend.

Finland is very beautiful!

The second training event was held in February in Coventry, and Shared Assets facilitated the fellows undertaking some live “action learning” projects. The aim was to give the students both an opportunity to understand Coventry better, and to learn about collaborative practice, action research and group working through direct experience.

 

We kicked off on Sunday afternoon (after an obligatory and substantial Sunday roast!), thinking about some of the key considerations involved in collaboration. This was particularly interesting for us: it’s our bread and butter, really, working in collaborative situations with groups of people, and it was a great opportunity to reflect on how we do that. I pulled together a workbook with some key concepts, including ways of getting to an agreed core purpose and ways of thinking about roles.

Through some fun exercises and discussion, we teased out some of the crucial issues involved in collaboration – particularly getting to recognise how you as an individual act in groups, and what impacts that might have. A key concept that we draw upon regularly, and that we introduced to the fellows, is that of double loop learning, getting into the habit of questioning your underlying assumptions and beliefs about any given situation or person.

The fellows quickly got their teeth into project planning

The projects themselves were nicely meaty. One group explored how to make Feeding Coventry’s Food Charter more effective. One looked at how the Coventry City of Culture programme might support agroecological food growing on public land. The final group worked on a strategy for a land-based social enterprise to supply the university’s caterer. All of these are real projects, and have the potential for quite radical solutions and change, while needing to engage with the power structures and institutions present in the city.

 

The fellows are all incredibly bright and engaged and it was a real pleasure to watch them take on these tasks with gusto – they engaged with local stakeholders, carried out some primary research, and embraced the process of collaboration enthusiastically and thoughtfully. The week finished with each group presenting their ideas to a panel of local stakeholders, who were really impressed with what they came up with in such a short time. As one of the participants put it, “In the end, our action learning project didn’t only teach us how to research or communicate – it helped us to grow as a RECOMS community.  Becoming a community is not an easy process. It requires patience and negotiation; effort and care. We learned that working with and growing communities of becoming requires first becoming a community.  This means inspiring ourselves and others to ask big questions about personal things and picking each other up where we are at.”

We are going to be hosting some of the fellows on secondments over the next couple of years and are really excited about working with them to progress some of these ideas.

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