Embedding environmental science into community organising

Lead Research Organisation: University of Birmingham
Department Name: Sch of Geography, Earth & Env Sciences


Work through the ENCOMPASS project (Engageing Communities with their Environment at the University of Birmingham) with under-served local communities (for example in the Lozells, Handsworth and Balsall Heath areas of Birmingham) has highlighted a range of environmental issues and concerns that resonate within these communities and are also recognised as regional, national and even global issues. The aim of this work was to learn from and adapt the practice of listening to communities, which involved a series of structured meetings and conversations designed to reveal issues and challenges that communities are concerned about and identify where they desire change. By building on existing listening feedback and focusing our efforts on environmental concerns, the following issues have emerged: 1) the importance of biodiverse habitats in urban spaces; 2) waste management - especially litter and the use of plastics; and 3) air quality/pollution. Engagement with local businesses (through the Centre for Research in Ethic Minority Entrepreneurship - CREME) also highlights a desire to make business decisions based on sound environmental practices as well as economic ones. Furthermore, interactions with 'community influencers' to date has unearthed a perceived disconnect with environmental science, whilst also highlighting that an appetite exists for access to high quality environmental research, especially where this is recognised that this will provide important evidence to drive local environmental improvements. In response to these concerns, Citizen's UK recognises that the translation of environmental science expertise and data will greatly enhance their ability to support communities to understand and gain access to the latest research in a range of environmental issues. This placement will enable this knowledge transfer and develop and maintain links, enabling effective brokerage of environmental science with communities. The purpose of the Innovation Placement is thus to use a range of research that includes (but is not limited to) atmosphere chemistry and physics (especially where this relates to urban air pollution), climate and climate change, earth resources, pollution, waste and resources to inform a strategic listening campaign with existing Citizen UK Birmingham members. Work will involve training a team of volunteers drawn from the University of Birmingham research community and Citizens UK members, design and coordination of the strategic listening with selected member groups, co-development of actions with these groups, evaluation and follow up. By the end of the placement, Citizen's UK in collaboration with its members will have a novel evidence base that will inform future environmentally focused listening and enjoy firmly established links with the environmental research community.
The nature of the work undertaken by Citizens UK and the broad scope of the environmental issues that that are recognised by communities it is important that the person undertaking the Innovation Placement has a broad science background that spans a range of disciplines. Furthermore, it is important that they have experience of translating information and providing appropriate 'education' where appropriate. In addition having knowledge of the Citizen's UK methodology of community organising would be advantageous as would having experience of working with or within community organising. The proposed fellow is an experienced environmental scientist with a professional, educational and academic background. This skill set equips the placement fellow to understand the nature and methods of community-based organisations, but also has strong links to NERC remit research (initially - through the School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Science) but ultimately beyond and including other Universities linked with Citizens UK chapters.


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Description Concerns around environmental issues are relevant to many communites, however the current ways of expressing environmental issues from the majority of scientists doesn't resonate or include accessible ways to work alongside communities to understand another's perspective
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy,Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Policy & public services

Description NERC Community for Engaging Environments
Amount £1,317,801 (GBP)
Funding ID NE/S017437/1 
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 08/2019 
End 07/2022
Description Citizens UK 
Organisation Citizens UK
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution As part of my innovation placement fellowship we heavily strengthened the partnership with the host organisation, a social justice charity Citizens UK. We have extended the reach beyond Birmingham to other Citizens UK chapters including Tyne and Wear, Greater Manchester, TELCO and Milton Keynes.
Collaborator Contribution The partners hosted me for 8 months, I was allowed to sit on their leadership borad, have attended national AGMs and 3 and 6 day training. I have acted as an associate organiser for 8 months and continue to do so for a following 7 months. Through partnership working we have built a much greater core team within our institution. Furthermore the lead organiser for the host charity was appointed on the steering group of the University's new engagement and outreach facility being develop in the city centre and opening in 2021.
Impact The Innovation Fellowship host organisation is now a partner with a staff member as a Co-I for a large scale three year research council funded grant. Having a social justice charity at the forefront of working with UK research arounf environemtal issues, we think, is a large step change on how we tackle perception s and include diverse communities in two-way dialogue arounf environmental research and the links between social, health and economic inequalities with environemntal inequalities such as access to safe grren space, sustainable transport, air quality and other isses.
Start Year 2017
Description Acting as an Associated organiser 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact As I was embedded in a spcial justice charity that has 20+ institutional members from civil society (schools, social enterprises, educational trust, mosques, churches, synagogues) I spent a lot of time in a range of meetings to undertsand concerns arounf spcial justice issues held by these institutions and the people within them. My role was to understand where these issues had an environmental consequence or aspect. I used this combination of information to contribute actively to a range of delegates assembys, school visits, community listening events, leadership groups meetings and meetings with political figures. I drew on and linked current and previous research to contemporary environmental issues.
Additiponally I used this knowledge to work with academic colleagues to re-frame these concerns for their research work and the agency of the academic institution. Highlighting the social relevance of academia in a novel way for natural scientsits
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://nerc.ukri.org/press/releases/2019/14-engaging-environments/