WISERD/Civil Society

Lead Research Organisation: Cardiff University
Department Name: Sch of Social Sciences

Abstract

This proposal is for a National Research Centre (WISERD/Civil Society) to undertake a five year programme of policy relevant research addressing Civil Society in Wales. Established in 2008, WISERD provides an 'All-Wales' focus for research and has had a major impact on the quantity and quality of social science research undertaken in Wales. As part of WISERD, WISERD/Civil Society will enable this work to be deepened and sustained through a focused research programme that further develops our research expertise, intensifies our policy impact and knowledge exchange work and strengthens our research capacity and career development activities. WISERD/Civil Society will therefore aim to develop key aspects of the multidisciplinary research initiated during the first phase of WISERD's work to produce new empirical evidence to inform our understanding of the changing nature of civil society in the context of devolved government and processes of profound social and economic change.

There are many disagreements over what civil society is and how it may be changing. We do know that over the last forty years there have been unprecedented changes in the spheres of economy and industry, politics and governance, social relations and individual life courses. How individuals in local contexts are affected by and respond to dramatic institutional changes is not well understood. An important gap in our knowledge is in describing and explaining the impact of social change on local forms of civil society and civil society organisations and what this means for social cohesion and well-being. In addition how different forms of civil society are developing in the context of multi-level and devolved government is not well understood. Because of its size and devolved government, Wales offers a unique context for studying these issues. Viewing Wales as a 'laboratory for social science' the proposed centre will build on existing networks of researchers who have a wide range of expertise and skills. Large survey data sets will be exploited and analysed and new data collected on civil society in Wales, the UK and Europe. Inter-disciplinarity and multi-method approaches applied to longitudinal and comparative data will be a key feature and strength of the WISERD/Civil Society research programme. Our research will be underpinned by three principles: (i) to maximise research impact, (ii) to become a centre of excellence for comparative, longitudinal, and relational research methods and (iii) to contribute to the growth of research capacity in Wales. We will also extend our research out from Wales to undertake comparative studies at different regional, national and international levels. In this way WISERD will make substantive and novel contributions to the advancement of social theory applied to researching contemporary civil society and to methodological approaches to describing and explaining patterns of civic participation in the context of devolution and multi-level governance. Substantive research will be applied to real and timely research problems conducted under four inter-related themes:

Locality, Community and Civil Society
Individuals, Institutions and Governance
Economic Austerity, Social Enterprise and Inequality
Generation, Life Course and Social Participation

Our aim will be to produce a wide range of outputs accessible to a variety of different audiences, including: academic papers; books; working papers; seminars; web based material; video and e-learning materials; as well as disseminating our work through a diversity of activities. Public awareness will be raised through events; activities; and exhibitions, designed to foster interest and encourage discussion and debate. WISERD/Civil Society will have a strong management structure, substantial institutional support, and close links with relevant organisations, and will provide substantive career development for new and early-career researchers and PhD students.

Planned Impact

Who will benefit?
We will target four key beneficiary groups; (i) Researchers and research networks; (ii) Policy makers and national and local government; (iii) Third Sector and Civil Society Organisations and (iv) the General Public and Communities.

How will they benefit?
Findings from the multidisciplinary research programme will advance knowledge and stimulate further research and debate across wide range of academics. We will create a rich and vibrant research environment, involving networks of national and international academics, with a strategy to disseminate research and knowledge as widely as possible by means of a series of targeted events, published outputs and the use of social and digital media. We will make a rich set of new data available to the academic community. We will implement a five year career development programme aimed at newly appointed researchers and established investigators within WISERD/Civil Society participating institutions. We will establish a network to bring researchers together from the four UK nations focusing on devolution and civil society. Specific research capacity activities will include three grant-linked PhD studentships and, in collaboration with the Wales DTC & the White Rose DTC, a substantial cohort of further funded studentships. Early and mid-career researchers will be given responsibility for work packages with mentoring and support from senior researchers. Our international links will provide advanced and specialist training for staff and academics in the thematic networks. We will provide strong web-based engagement and dissemination and e-learning opportunities across a wide range of levels from secondary schools to advanced postgraduate training and specialist teaching. All new and early-career researchers will be expected to contribute to planning meetings, seminars and joint Seminars with Government departments. Where events and seminars and publications are being planned new researchers will be partnered with senior researchers to deliver outputs as part of a research management development plan. We will organise reciprocal internships and placements for programme staff in civil society organisations and the Welsh Government. Policy actors will therefore benefit from access to the research process (planning; interpretation of findings; and access to data for further research) and from access to preliminary research findings. In close collaboration with the new Public Policy Institute for Wales we will inform Welsh Government priority areas from a civil society perspective. A comprehensive impact strategy will range from programme level events and activities (conferences, seminar series, training courses) undertaken on a rolling annual basis to key impact targets for each of the individual work packages within the research themes (including research and policy output workshops, web based and social media dissemination and public engagement activities) to be delivered within defined timescales. Third sector and private organisations will benefit from a clearer understanding of how their work is related to wider aspects of civil society and forms of social capital. This will lead to an increased focus on evidence and will inform and improve plans to deliver services more effectively and efficiently and to work more closely with the social enterprise sector. We will also work with third sector organisations and groups to develop learning opportunities particularly within policy research, comparative research and analysis of Welsh data. Through our emphasis on user involvement, engagement and co-production the public and communities will benefit from an independent and challenging research programme, focused on the social outcomes of civil society processes, that produces evidence on the inter-relationships between individuals and institutions, and disseminates that evidence back to the general public in diverse and usable formats.