The Connected Communities programme funded over 300 projects, bringing together over 700 academics and 500 collaborating organisations.

The programme pulled out five key points on what you need to consider when preparing the foundations for successful collaborative ventures. These are summarised below.

You can also read the full Creating Living Knowledge report (Connected Communities website).

Explore why you and your research partner want to collaborate

Explore the practical, personal and symbolic reasons for collaboration and those of your partner. Reflect on your expectations of what both parties can bring to the collaboration and how realistic these expectations are.

University and community partners decide to work together for very different reasons. These reasons may be practical - access to resources, necessity of partnership to actually conduct the research; they may be personal - an intrinsic motivation, friendship or shared interest; they may be to do with wider agendas - changing the nature of research, rethinking university-community relationships. The important thing is to understand these different motivations and their implications for how you approach the project. 

Establish your (competing) accountabilities

Articulate the internal and external accountabilities within the project and consider how any tensions between them should be tackled.

Project partners are held within complex webs of accountability that shape what they can do. The core relations of accountability within projects are both internal (to the core project participants) and external (to disciplinary fields, to ideas of the 'public good' and to personal social networks). These accountabilities frequently compete and require negotiation.

Identify your collaborative approach and the implications for the shape of your collaboration

Consider how your answers to the following questions may shape and inform the decisions that underpin how the collaboration is designed and conducted:

  • Why do we work with communities and with public knowledge? Do you think your partner has a right to contribute, shape and inform the knowledge produced about them or that your partner has knowledge, ideas and experience that will enhance the quality of knowledge produced by the project?
  • What is the temporality of this project? Is the timescale of the project limited by the funding or will it exceed the funding period?
  • What is the nature of the human relationships in this project? Are your relationships for the purpose and duration of the project or are they important in their own right and will outlast the project?
  • Are we concerned with changing knowledge or changing reality?
  • Who 'counts' as 'community' for this project? Is your focus on working with grass roots communities or on working with organisations who represent communities?
  • Who chooses the research topic and when?
  • How should governance reflect our values?
  • Who are we accountable to?
  • What assumptions about 'knowledge' are we working with?
  • What counts as a positive legacy?

There many different approaches to collaboration which give rise to very different organisational forms for conducting research. No approach is necessarily better than another but differing world views, theories of change and traditions of research will result in different choices about how the collaboration works. 

Discuss money, time and resources with your partners

Consider how the money and time each partner can allocate to the collaboration may impact on interpersonal relationships, the nature of the partnership and the kind of outcomes that will be pursued.

Questions of money, time and resource, and how these are organised and administered are critical factors in shaping how and whether projects are able to achieve their goals.

Reflect on the scope for legacy from your collaboration

Consider the potential for legacy from your collaborative partnerships in terms of the following broad areas:

  • Products - what tangible outputs may be produced?
  • People - how may the project contribute to learning, to capacity building, to confidence and capabilities, to feelings and emotions, to the development of careers and personal security?
  • Networks - what new connections, relationships and networks may emerge?
  • Concepts - could the project lead to new languages, tools and ideas?
  • Institutions - what implications may the project have for the structures, processes and practices of partners' institutions?
  • The research landscape - what foundations  may be laid for future collaborations?