Graham Smith, Professor of Politics at the Centre for the Study of Democracy (CSD) has been awarded £100,000 as part of the ESRC Connected Communities consortium ‘Imagine: the social, historical, cultural and democratic context of civic engagement’. The consortium is led by Professor Graham Crow (University of Edinburgh) and will run for five years from 2013 to 2017. The total award value for the consortium is £1,817,744.

Smith will be working on the further development of Participedia  – an innovative open global knowledge platform for researchers and practitioners in the field of democratic innovation and public engagement. Smith is on the Executive Committee of Participedia which involves academics from Harvard, Penn State, UBC and Bremen as well as internationally-recognised practitioner bodies.

Smith has employed two research assistants to work with him on the project, which runs until early 2014: Gemma Jamieson Malik (a PhD student in CSD) and Jez Hall (a community activist who is a leading expert in participatory budgeting). Their aim is to:

  • use Participedia as the repository for the most interesting examples of participatory budgeting in the UK and to analyse the characteristics of this emerging phenomenon.
  • understand the needs of practitioner- and policy-users of Participedia through focus groups and an incentive-based experiment.
  • provide guidance to the rest of the Imagine consortium on how open online platforms might be used as a repository for user-generated content and more systematic analysis on civic engagement.

The Imagine programme brings together a range of different research projects working together across universities and local communities. It aims to experiment with different forms of community building that ignite imagination about the future and help to build resilience and a momentum for change. 

Imagine aims to do more than just connect research on communities. At the heart of the programme is a vision to connect communities with research. Engagement with communities at all stages of the research places collaborative and participatory research methods in a central role to widen the ways community partners and universities can work together. The consortium is aiming for the ‘democratisation of social research’.

The projects will use a mixture of ways to help communities and universities work in partnership, but the various strands of research will be held together by a shared interest in the ways we imagine this co-operation happening and how these ideas are put into practice in diverse communities.

Collectively, the projects will explore the changing nature of communities and community values over time, in their historical, cultural, democratic and social contexts, as well as bringing together current community-engaged research to plan interventions with members of socially excluded communities.

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