Participatory Futures

Lead Research Organisation: University of Glasgow
Department Name: College of Social Sciences


The GCRF Challenge Cluster Participatory Futures directly addresses the challenge of Equitable Access to Sustainable Development as identified by the UKRI GCRF strategy: "Partnerships should be transparent and based on mutual respect... equitable distribution of resources, responsibilities, efforts and benefits... recognising different inputs, different interests and different desired outcomes." As a central component to this challenge area, the proposed cluster looks to the Sustainable Development Goal 17, Partnerships for the Goals, to ensure that innovation and knowledge is shared between countries via strong global partnerships. This goal is gravely underrepresented in development-related research and yet critically underpins and determines the quality, impact and sustainability of outcomes of our research and practice.

This project recognises the need for a critical examination of what we mean by partnership, how these are enacted within development practice, and how we might learn and enable the research community to "partner better." The practices, tensions and experiences relating to the ongoing challenges of partnership working are largely overlooked in reports and papers of interdisciplinary, transboundary projects. Compounding this problem, the evidence of the impacts of "projectitus" (short-termism in planning without concern for the longer-term implications of research or interventions, and "research fatigue" amongst over-burdened communities), the examples of unintended detrimental consequences of well-intentioned research and of abandoned and failed initiatives and the rise of post-development literature as a response to the western dominated nature of development, continues to amass.

Despite the increasing affluence and capacity of the Global North, people in the south still suffer disproportionately from disease, poverty, war, famine and climate change. We have come together in recognition that partnerships and participation represent a fundamental but complex component of all GCRF. We contend that without genuine and equitable partnerships at the foundations of our research, the potential impact, relevance, and sustainability of the research will forever be limited or negated. Partnerships not only determine the very design and implementation of research, but the outcomes. As innovation is a requirement of GCRF and part of wider research and development working, creating and maintaining successful and equitable partnerships is advantageous, leading to new insights and perspectives, engagement with harder to reach countries and populations, leading to new possibilities for sustainable impact.

By moving partnerships to the foreground, the Participatory Futures Challenge Cluster will bring together strands of early successes and recognised failures in GCRF research to address the problem of equity in sustainable development. This project is fuelled by critical insights and analysis of completed and ongoing projects, and ultimately driven by a focus on proposition and solution. Phase 1 of the Cluster will include: (1) an ethnography of cluster projects to analyse partnership practices in terms of equity, participation, and impact; (2) a synthesise of research findings and outputs; (3) the development of a framework and proof of concept case study in accessible forms (written report, documentary, media); and (4) a transition pathway to tools of translation, education, impact, and influence to mainstream international research. These outputs predicate the objectives of a larger project (Phase 2) focused on rolling out this framework through concurrent projects led by different disciplines in multiple distinct regions beyond those reflected in this cluster.

Planned Impact

Co-creating research impact systems to deliver participatory futures: Equitable, empowered, impact-engaged partnerships are a necessity for participatory research. Bringing together the five projects under the Cluster initiative represents a unique co-learning and co-creation experience which firmly places the global south partners as equal drivers of change and future leaders in development-relevant impact. The impact plan is an integral component of the overall research plan designed to build on the assets and focus on the similarities as well as the differences between projects. The plan is devised in the knowledge that meaningful, actionable outcomes need to be achieved within a one-year period but form part of a longer-term four-year strategy.

The Participatory Futures Cluster will act as a hub for the development and delivery of new approaches and platforms for impact of direct relevance to the global south and GCRF through pooling and defragmentation of resources across the partner projects. This will transform the capacity in partnerships for impact across the target areas of sustainable development. The aim is to generate co-creation and impact approaches which are relevant and scalable for the UK and global south Partner Institutes. The impact work package aims to change culture around research impact at all levels, from the local to the transnational, to generate an integrated ecosystem linking all partner regions. Each individual project in the cluster represents an island of practice, as each project already variably engages with a range of stakeholders from government, societal groups and business. However, at present, both experience and innovation are isolated within the projects and the full benefits are not felt by the broader ecosystem. Thus, key components in pathways to impact need to be strengthened locally with best practice and the co-creation of impact experience made open, shared and improved in an iterative fashion.

Our Impact strategy includes each partner project electing an Impact Ambassador. This role will be the contact point for impact related activities within the project and as the link between projects, the RAs, and central Cluster Hub ensuring alignment and integration into the main project aims. It is important to note that the impact activities are the responsibility of all members of a project. The Ambassador is a facilitator of this. The Ambassadors will act as a functional network between the projects and as such are critical to the success of the Cluster and will be supported by the project teams. Planned outputs, including research syntheses, research frameworks, case study, teaching and curriculum materials will be made accessible to wide audiences through the use of documentary, digital, and arts-informed communications, as well as academic publications and presentations.

Each large project that is subsequently rolled out (in phase 2, years 2-4) will require a Regional Impact Development Plan (RIDP) as an integral part of its design. In order to prepare for this, the framework and tools to support the RIDPs will be co-designed with existing Cluster partners and stakeholders inclusively (in Year 1). This preparatory objective will ensure the second phase of the project can be conducted with a clear shared vision, an understanding of how our teams work and an appropriate platform for engaging with the wider ecosystems relevant to each project. These preparatory tools will be immediately accessible and relevant to wider audiences (academic, student, development organisations) and will demonstrate our impact and partnership agenda.

Elements will include: Training and education in co-creation and research impact skills; Development of bespoke resources, tools and expertise base to support partnerships for impact; Support of the transition of the findings/training developed during the project into impact.


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