Zoe Schott is an International Public Policy MSc student at UCL Department of Political Science this academic year. She is also one of the first 2020/21 CRIS students to set up a research agreement with a community partner. If you’re wondering how to develop your research collaboration with CRIS, read her story to find out more!
Please describe what you’ve been doing to set up your collaboration? So the tasks, emailing, paperwork, meetings.
It’s been an exploratory process up until about a month ago, when me and the organisation finally agreed on what the project is going to look like. Up until then it entailed a lot of meetings with the community partner and a lot of discussions trying to figure out what the project would look like.
I had reached out to Brook via CRIS because I was initially interested in doing some volunteer research for them, I didn't necessarily think that it was going to be my dissertation.
We were having these exploratory conversations so that we could figure out where the intersection would lie in the research and try and figure out how I could use my political science research skills to help them with their questions about sexual health and equality. After those conversations we then landed somewhere and wrote up a research agreement - we are in the process of signing that right now.
It just required that we sit in ambiguity for a little while which Anne helps me feel comfortable with because I am the type person that really likes to know what the plan is. The project was ambiguous for a really long time while we were deciphering out what it would be, and for me that was a learning curve, being comfortable with that.
How much was your supervisor involved in this stage and how important (or not) was this involvement?
In the department of Political Science we get assigned the supervisor only by mid-March.
Being assigned a supervisor so late in the game was a slight inconvenience because in the earlier stages of our brainstorming integration with my community partner it was highly likely that I was going to need a high-level ethics approval. It is really hard to do if you don't have a supervisor, but the department was really good at connecting me with professors that could interim shepherd me along the process.
Once I did get assigned my official supervisor things have been moving more quickly. And I think that he will be helpful; he hasn't really been involved in the collaboration thus far, other than to inform my research question and help me narrow it down.
The main takeaway from me was that if department's timeline is late, then there are ways you can work around it and strive forward with your research plan and your collaboration, because you can find support in other ways.
How easy was it to arrive at a research topic or question that suited you and also your organisation?
I would say that it wasn't easy but it wasn't drudgerous either. There were a lot of different interests to conflate in one project. The research department at the organisation had one goal for the research, the policy and advocacy department had another goal for the research, and I, as the researcher, had a third goal for the research, which was to create a 10,000 word dissertation on the topic of international public policy.
So we did take a really long time to fit these things together in a way that would satisfy everybody's interests. But, while that was hard to do, it was still a really exciting process, because in every conversation we were coming up with new ideas and all of the research questions that we perused were really interesting and it would have been very exciting to spend time answering any one of them, if I had fewer interests to satisfy.
What has been most exciting part of this process so far?
The most exciting part of the process has thus far—and none of the research on my dissertation has begun yet—has been this prospect of creating something that is going to be really useful for the organisation. We took a long time to figure out what would be mutually beneficial, so I feel very confident that what we are going to be creating is actually going to be useful for their service provision and for their policy advocacy.
That part is really exciting: the fact that i'm not just creating research for knowledge’s own sake. I’m creating it so that an active, dynamic, live organisation can actually use this knowledge to help people. I think that's cool.
What has been the most daunting or stressful?
It was the ambiguity. It was there because I had to figure out what exactly I was offering to this research project. I had to make sure that I was making my offering worthwhile for the organisation, because they were giving me so much of their time and so many of their resources that I felt a lot of pressure to make something very useful. But, while I was feeling that pressure, I was trying to figure out what that useful thing was, so it required a good deal of creativity and collaboration.
It was hard to just not know what was going to happen for such a long time, while having those creative discussions.
What are your hopes for the collaboration?
I have hopes for the process, and then I have hopes for the result.
My hope for the process itself is that everybody involved feels as though the process was carried out smoothly and in a mutually beneficial and respectful way. Particularly for the people that I'm going to be interacting with, I’m going to try very hard to not do any harm and not reinforce stigmas.
And my hope for the product is that it will actually be helpful for the organisation. I hope that it will come up with information that is actionable for the organisation so they can actually absorb it into their institutional knowledge and maybe make changes to their service provision, so that it is more beneficial for UK immigrants, in particular. and so. And finally, I hope that it's a piece of work that helps the people it is about.