Wendy Madsen

Abstract: This introduction identifies a number of themes that are threaded through the case studies outlined in this book. These include a preparedness of all partners to be involved in engaged research, the centrality of trust, the need for internal structures to support engaged research, the importance of narratives and connectedness, the need to focus on community issues and needs, and that engaged research provides a platform for the co-creation of knowledge that benefits all.

Madsen, Wendy, Lynette Costigan, and Sarah McNicol, eds. Community Resilience, Universities and Engaged Research for Today’s World. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015. doi: 10.1057/9781137481054.0005.

We live in a complex world. It is a world that poses many challenges both now and into the future. Things that were once certain are now less so. The social, economic and political ground is shifting under our feet. Institutions such as universities are not immune to these changes. Academics have a choice in how we respond to these changes. We can, of course, pretend none of this really matters and wrap ourselves up in our academic research and papers; live on an intellectual cloud above a distant world where these complexities exist. Or we can engage directly with the issues that are presenting themselves within todays world, using our intellectual capacities to help solve ‘real-world’ problems. Almost 80 years ago, John Dewey (1938) also thought about these choices, how theory was often depicted as the opposite of practice; or at the very least that theory was somehow compromised when it needed to be applied to practice. His solution was to view theory and practice from a both/and rather than either/or perspective. This book takes up Dewey’s perspective and presents a both/and view of research and practice, demonstrating through a number of case studies how we have worked with our communities and industries to undertake research.

This book is the result of a number of conversations; conversations between academics from diverse disciplines about finding a common ground, and conversations between academics and their community and industry partners. The ideas of engaged research and community resilience emerged from these conversations but it was not until February 2013 in the wake of a natural disaster that the ideas crystallised. Chapter 1 provides an overview of these events and places the ideas into a theoretical context, drawing on the literature to explore the meaning of each. A number of points are identified in this chapter that are then picked up and explored to a greater or lesser extent in the case studies that follow. Thus, this book contains a number of threads relating to engaged research and community resilience, including: the preparedness of community members and academics to be involved in engaged research activities; the centrality of trust between partners and co-researchers; the need to consider internal structures within universities as well as industries to facilitate engaged research; acknowledging the importance of narratives and connectedness; the need to focus on community issues and problems; sharing power and resources; understanding knowledge as a co-creation activity that values the input from all partners in a process of community learning; and finally, understanding that these activities occur within a complex adaptive system which includes our communities, our industries and our universities.

In Chapter 2, Kathy Prentice and Tania Signal outline a decade-long research partnership between Phoenix House staff and CQUniversity researchers. Numerous projects have been undertaken throughout this time that have benefited both partners. The authors point out the importance of preparedness to be involved in engaged research and how trust is the basis of this partnership as a number of internal structures within both organisations need to be overcome. This chapter highlights the focus of these engaged research activities on the issues Phoenix House staff are dealing with on a daily basis and that involvement of academic researchers can provide rigour to the evaluations and development of these programs that has resulted in greater recognition of the work being undertaken as well as a more secure financial basis. Phoenix House provides vital services to the Bundaberg community. Thus, the engaged research work is contributing to the sustainability of these services and resilience within this community.

Trust is explored further in Chapter 3. Here Wendy Madsen, Sarah McNicol and Cathy O’Mullan reflect on two community oral history projects as a way engaged research can influence community resilience. In particular, the authors focus on the importance of narratives, which are derived from oral history projects and how these can remind communities of their own connectedness with each other and with place. This process of engaging communities in revealing their own history illustrates the idea of co-creation of knowledge and is a way academic researchers can ‘give back’ to their communities, particularly when the funds from the sale of the books generated from these projects go directly back to these communities.

The importance of narratives also emerges as a key outcome in the evaluation of a school-based arts project as outlined in Chapter 4. As with the activities of Phoenix House, the staff at Creative Regions entered into a partnership with CQUniversity researchers to help evaluate the work being done as often community based, not-for-profit organisations have limited capacity to undertake more involved evaluations because of funding and other structural limitations. In this chapter, Wendy Madsen, Madonna Chesham and Shelley Pisani explore the role of community arts programs in promoting the recovery and resilience of communities in the aftermath of a natural disaster. The Afloat project contributed to children being able to make meaning from the disaster events which assisted in them settling back in to school-learning programs.

Kerry Aprile and Helen Huntly take up the threads of narrative and preparedness to undertake engaged research in Chapter 5. Here the issues of shared power and trust are explored as the authors reflect on involving teacher aides in a reading program within primary schools. The multiple communities that the teacher aides are involved in illustrate the complexities of these roles as well as the realities associated with engaged research when it involves developing partnerships between co-researchers where there is a perceived power differential. Working through these issues is essential if the venture is to provide an environment of community learning and thus support community resilience.

Developing a community learning environment is a major theme in Chapter 6 which explores embedding community resilience into the curriculum of a new bachelor’s degree in emergency service. In this chapter, Helen Keen Dyer, Wendy Madsen and Andrew Short take a different approach to engaged research by using Collaborative Autoethnography to reflect on the partnership development that forms the basis of the program. Again issues of preparedness, trust, shared power and community learning emerge as essential to understanding how engaged research relates to community resilience.

Complexity characterises both engaged research and community resilience so it is not surprising that these case studies do not portray simple or easily reducible problems. The final case study in this book picks up on the social, environmental as well as the economic domains associated with community resilience. In this chapter, Phil Brown and Talitha Best focus on the resilience of the horticultural community and how researchers have engaged with farmers over a 30-year period to promote economic as well as social and environmental capitals such that there is now a great deal of trust between academic researchers and farmers.

In providing examples of engaged research across a range of disciplines, from health promotion to humanities, education and agriculture, this book contributes to the emerging understanding of how engaged research can influence community resilience and how academic researchers can join with community and industry partners to address the complexities of today’s issues and problems. We have invoked the spirit of John Dewey in taking a both/and perspective to theory and practice and we look to further opportunities to integrate theory and research into the practice of meeting the challenges of our complex world.

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