Impact award for Sally Lloyd-Evans, Whitley Researchers, Paul Allen and the Young Researchers

INSPIRE – research that has inspired children and young people

For the second year running, Dr. Sally Lloyd-Evans, Participation Lab leader and the Whitley Researchers have been awarded a University of Reading Research Engagement and Impact Award. This year, Sally Lloyd-Evans, the Whitley Researchers, Paul Allen and the Young Researchers achieved the award under the INSPIRE category – for research that has inspired children and young people.

Since 2014, Dr Sally Lloyd-Evans has worked alongside residents in Whitley and other local partners, to develop a collective now known as the Whitley Researchers. Armed with research tools, the team is identifying needs within the community that will help them to address issues of economic and social exclusion.

This year, the team have worked with young people in local schools to train them as researchers and conduct youth-led research on issues they identified as important to them.  Sally Lloyd-Evans commented, “It’s great to see the work of the Young Researchers and the Whitley Researchers team rewarded and recognised by the University and the wider community in Reading, as well as this approach to youth-led community research more generally. ”


Deathscapes and Diversity research project

We are pleased to welcome the Deathscapes and Diversity research project, led by Dr. Avril Maddrell, as one of the Participation Lab’s growing portfolio of projects.

Deathscapes and Diversity: Making space for Death and Remembrance in Multicultural England and Wales

Using four case study towns in England and Wales and a variety of creative and participatory methods, the project is exploring how the needs of migrants and established minorities are interpreted and met within existing public and private cemetery, crematoria and remembrance site provision, and how any shortfalls might be addressed through community participation and local authority planning. The project aims to identify best practice and to inform local government and other providers about improving cemetery and crematoria provision.

The project is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and Economic and Social Research Council and is supported by the Institute of Cemetery and Crematorium Management and the Royal Town Planning Institute.

We’ll keep you posted on the planned visual exhibition, with photographs of participants, and other outputs in the coming months!

Participation Lab’s Second Annual Workshop: Participation for the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

Introduction to the SDGs

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are the centrepiece of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which the UN describes as a ‘plan of action for people, planet and prosperity.’ The 17 SDGs, and their 150 indicators, are designed to promote social and economic development, whilst remaining within the limits of Earth’s ability to support human existence. Participation of all members of society is considered vital for the achievement of the SDGs. A wealth of expertise exists regarding participatory methodologies for engaging different people, but there has thus far been limited exploration of how this expertise may be applied to support progress on the SDGs.

(The UN Sustainable Development Goals)

In the Participation Lab’s Second Annual Workshop, we invited a group of academics and practitioners, to explore how existing knowledge on participatory methodologies, could be applied to help meet the SDGs. The workshop took place on the 30th June 2017 at the University of Reading. It brought together 27 academics and practitioners, from the UK and globally, who represented fields including human geography, education, international development, and the arts. The participants all engaged in a set of carefully-designed activities, as well as listening to prepared presentations. Key learning points included: the importance of making the SDGs relevant to actors at the local level, empowering disadvantaged populations to add their voice to policy and action on the goals, and helping to monitor progress on working towards them.



The Workshop

The workshop was introduced by Hilary Geoghegan, from the Participation Lab, who explained the SDGs, as well as the need for participatory methodologies to help work towards them. This was followed by a brief reflection, by me, on learning from ‘Facing the Future 2016,’ a previous workshop I attended on the SDGs. I described how Facing the Future delegates had concluded that the SDGs should be viewed as ‘design principles,’ requiring collaborative, creative and care-based approaches, if they are to be met.

Session 1 was designed and facilitated by Rachel Pateman and Sarah West, from the Stockholm Environment Institute at the University of York. Participants were split into groups then given sets of cut-out cards, each with one of the 150 indicators written on them. The groups were then asked to match the cards to the SDGs they thought the indicators corresponded with, as well as to think about how participatory methods could help support and measure progress on each one. This activity raised some interesting questions, regarding how the global-level goals could be made more accessible at the local level, how diverse voices could be included in action for the SDGs, and how disempowered people could be connected to those in power.


(Workshop participants matched indicators to SDGs, and considered how participatory methods could help work towards them.)

Session 2 subsequently involved a series of seven presentations, which provided some examples of how participatory methods could help address the questions identified in Session 1. These were given by workshop participants who described their research, and explained how it could help support the SDGs. The presentations focused on a range of different participatory methods, including: citizen science with marginalised populations and young people, ‘Global Youth Work,’ technology and visualisation, democratic innovation, and ‘Software as a Service.’ Some general themes emerged in how the presenters thought their research promoted the SDGs. These included:

  • Linking the global and the local, for example by helping young people connect their own everyday experiences, with those of young people in the Global South.
  • Encouraging action on the SDGs, by facilitating community engagement.
  • Including disadvantaged populations, such as young people, illiterate and alliterate populations, and farmers, in working towards the SDGs.
  • Making connections between people with diverse types of knowledge, at different spatial levels, and with different roles and interests. Also, connecting humans and nature.

Following the presentations, I led Session 3, in which the participants were split into groups, and asked to reflect on what they had learned from the presentations. Participants were asked to consider the questions: “Who are the audiences of the SDGs?” “What challenges do they face in meeting the SDGs?” and “How can participatory methods help to overcome these challenges?” This resulted in some interesting responses, considering how participatory dialogues, as well as storytelling, and embodied, kinaesthetic approaches, could help to account for the experiences of marginalised groups in action on the SDGs. Moreover, workshop participants thought participatory methods could be used to help monitor progress on the SDGs.


(Participants explored who the key audiences of the SDGs are, what challenges they face, and how participatory methods could be used to overcome them.)

Sarah West and Rachel Pateman then chaired Session 4, which considered the ethical challenges of conducting participatory research. Working in small groups, participants read through proposals for participatory research projects, then discussed the ethical challenges that could be encountered in each one. The challenges participants identified included:

  • Issues regarding whether participation in the research was culturally appropriate.
  • Danger of participants revealing too much about themselves, which could cause emotional distress.
  • Increasing the risk of retribution against participants, if the research is not in the interests of others.

This emphasised the importance of ensuring participatory researchers have sufficient awareness of the socio-economic and cultural context, in which their research occurs, as well as building trust, sharing data with participants, and ensuring they can signpost participants in the direction of pastoral support, where necessary.

Following a brief discussion on opportunities for funding participatory research for the SDGs, led by Muki Haklay, the workshop closed with a group discussion. The participants concentrated on what they had learned about the SDGs, as well as how participatory methods could help achieve them. The group seemed to agree that the SDGs are more usefully viewed as desirable principles, that can help us think about alternative ways of living, rather than as definitive end-points. The indicators were considered more achievable, because they are more specific and better defined. The participants questioned the relevance of the SDGs for local-level actors. Moreover, the group raised the issue that the indicators are measured using metrics and tools that are not meaningful to people’s everyday realities.


(In the closing group discussion, participants were asked to indicate how achievable they consider the SDGs to be. The responses were mixed, but there seemed to be a general agreement the SDGs are most useful as desirable principles, that can challenge us to think about new ways of living, rather than as concrete targets.)


Learning – How can participation support progress on the SDGs?

As described above, the closing discussion challenged the relevance of the SDGs at the local-level. The SDGs, themselves, focus on the global level, but the workshop participants thought action towards achieving them, was most important, as well as most effective, at the local level. In all the workshop activities, participants identified ways that participatory methods could be used to help connect actors at the local level with the SDGs. For example, in Session 1 one group proposed that citizen science could be used to help monitor local water quality, to help achieve SDG #6 ‘Clean Water and Sanitation.’ Another group thought that including local people in Participatory Action Research could help value local knowledge, as well as use it to inform policy and action on the SDGs.

Workshop participants also thought that participatory methods could help empower disadvantaged populations, by including their voices in research that could inform policy and action on achieving the SDGs. For instance, in Session 3, one group thought participation could help achieve SDG #5 ‘Gender Equality,’ through accommodating marginalised voices. Moreover, they thought participatory methods could enable people to have ‘safe’ conversations about gender, in which they could challenge incumbent cultural and institutional barriers, without fear of retribution.

Another way that participants thought participation could support progress on the SDGs, was through monitoring progress on the indicators. Workshop participants proposed that involving local level actors in research to monitor progress could make the SDGs relevant at the local level. Furthermore, it could empower marginalised stakeholders, by enabling them to hold those responsible for progress, to account. This is illustrated in Figure 1, below – a ‘theory of change,’ drawn up by one group in the activity reflecting on the presentations.

Figure 1. Theory of change, illustrating how participation in monitoring progress on the SDGs could make them more relevant, and stimulate action, at the local level. This could subsequently empower people to hold governments accountable for progress on the SDGs.

(Source: workshop participants)

In summary, the Participation Lab’s Second Annual Workshop engaged participants, from diverse fields, in a carefully-designed set of activities for exploring how participation could help support progress on the UN Sustainable Development Goals. We found that the use of participatory methodologies could help make the global-level SDGs relevant to local-level actors, as well as empower marginalised populations. Participatory methods could be especially useful, when used to monitor progress on the indicators for the Goals. For more information, please see the Participation Lab website, and Twitter feed (@participlab).

A Science Shop for the University of Reading?

Members of the ‘Participation Lab’ have been investigating the possibility of developing a Science Shop at the University of Reading (UoR). Research collaborations between universities and communities have the potential for significant, mutual benefits for all involved. One way in which these benefits may be achieved is through the use of intermediary organisations, known as ‘Science Shops,’ that link communities’ needs for knowledge and research with the skills and expertise of university students. In June 2017, we invited community organisations, academic researchers, students, and teaching staff to a workshop exploring what opportunities and challenges might exist if a Science Shop was established at UoR. In this post I provide an account of that meeting, including an explanation of the science shop idea, the benefits and challenges that were identified, and the potential solutions and next steps for how this could be taken forward. Read on to find out more!

What is a ‘Science Shop’?

Known variously as ‘science shops,’ ‘knowledge co-operatives,’ and ‘front doors’; science shops have existed at universities around the world since the concept was introduced in The Netherlands in the 1970s. The rationale behind the science shop idea is to provide independent, participatory support for research that responds to the concerns experienced by society. A science shop effectively acts as an interface between academic researchers and society, thus responding to communities’ needs for knowledge and expertise.

As illustrated in the diagram below, in practice, a science shop at UoR would involve a central person to be based at the university to act as an intermediary between communities and researchers. Community groups (including not-for-profit organisations, social groups, environmentalists, consumers, resident’s associations etc) would approach the science shop with an idea or a request for new research. The science shop would subsequently connect them with academics who had expertise in the proposed research topic. The academics would, in turn, arrange for university students to conduct research in collaboration with or on behalf of the community groups.

At the June workshop, Alice Mauchline from the Participation Lab pitched the idea of a science shop at UoR to members of academic staff, students, community groups, and teaching staff. We then encouraged the group to explore the potential benefits and challenges for both the university and the community. We were supported in our discussions by our mentor, Emma McKenna, from the Science Shop at Queen’s University Belfast. I describe the findings below.

What are the potential benefits for the community?

Before engaging in discussions about the benefits a science shop could have for the community, it was important to define ‘the community’. The researchers in attendance conducted research at a range of geographical levels, from the local to the global. However, it was decided that, as a starting point, the proposed science shop should concentrate on the local-level community.

The potential benefits of a science shop for the local community were aptly demonstrated by an account, provided by representatives from the ‘Whitley Researchers,’ of how linking up with University research had directly benefited their community. Through research in collaboration with UoR, they had successfully lobbied Reading Borough Council to change a bus route, making it easier for people in their community to access Reading town centre.


The case of the Whitley Researchers showed that being able to access and be supported by a researcher committed to participatory research was invaluable to their development and training, and to their success in using research to effect change locally. Several representatives of other community groups also indicated they would benefit from research supported by UoR. For example, a representative from an organisation that helped support refugees in Reading stated they would benefit from research into the experiences of refugees in Reading. Similarly, a women’s support charity indicated that university-supported research could help strengthen their influence on policy.

It is evident then, that local community groups would benefit from collaborative research. The workshop attendees largely agreed that the existence of an intermediary organisation or individual to coordinate such research would thus be beneficial. Indeed, the Whitley Researchers emphasised it would be useful to have a point of contact at UoR, who would ‘reach out,’ to community groups to help with their research needs. Similarly, representatives of community relations staff and the Student’s Union described how they regularly receive emails from community groups asking for help with research. They emphasised that community groups would find it useful to have a central point of contact who could deal with such enquiries.


What could the benefits be for the University?

In the workshop, we also identified the benefits a science shop could have for the university. We found that the idea would fit well with the UoR’s ‘Vision and Ambition Strategy’ to 2026. As part of this, the university states that it aims to maintain and enhance its role as a ‘leader in research,’ by being: ‘responsive to, stimulated by and informing changes in the world around us.’ The creation of a science shop would help to realise this aim by identifying and acting upon opportunities to respond to and inform the needs of community groups.

We also recognised that a science shop would enhance the role of UoR as a leading Higher Education institution by providing opportunities for students to develop new skills. In the proposed science shop model, research projects would be carried out by UoR students in collaboration with community groups, and supervised by academic staff. The workshop attendees agreed this would create opportunities for academic staff to provide research-based teaching, based on real-world problems; UoR students would therefore benefit from engaging as active participants in the co-production of knowledge with communities. Additionally, they would benefit from the development of important social skills, including communication and social responsibility that would improve their employability. Indeed, one of the students who attended, and had conducted research with a community organisation for her undergraduate dissertation, attested that her experience had helped her develop new social skills. She indicated the research had helped her develop new connections with the community, to become less judgemental of others, and to enhance her ability to build rapport with community members.

The workshop therefore indicated that a science shop would be highly beneficial for UoR. Increased collaborative research with community groups would help the university achieve its goals, and enhance the learning and employability of its students. It was evident, therefore that the development of a science shop would be desirable for both community groups and UoR. However, both sides had concerns regarding how a science shop would be implemented and how it would operate. These are outlined below.

What potential challenges exist?

The workshop participants evidently thought that the development of a science shop at UoR was a potentially beneficial idea. However, the purpose of the workshop was also to identify and consider solutions to the challenges that might arise. The workshop attendees identified two main challenges that would need to be overcome to enable the successful development of a science shop: balancing the interests of community groups and the university, and avoiding replication of existing collaborative research at the university. I have structured these, and the potential solutions that were proposed into the table below.

Challenges Description Solutions
Balancing the interests of community groups and the university – Delegates deemed that it was important to establish what needs community groups had for research to justify the need for a science shop and direct what sort of research communities need support with.

– Delegates in the workshop raised the question of how students should be recruited to conduct research within a science shop. Community representatives argued that ad hoc, piecemeal placements would be less valuable to them. Students argued they should receive credits towards their degree for conducting the research, to provide an incentive to produce high-quality research.

–  Students argued they would need to be paid to support their living expenses during research projects. However, it was not clear where the funding should come from, and one representative from a community charity contended it should be voluntary.

– Conduct an initial scoping exercise to explore the extent and nature of community groups’ research needs.





– Provide training to academic staff and students on best practice in collaborative research with communities. Equally, develop and maintain a rigorous recruitment process to ensure student researchers have appropriate skills and disposition. Manage the expectations of community groups by being honest and upfront about what can and cannot be achieved.


– Research possibilities for how projects could be funded.

Avoiding replication of existing collaborative research at UoR -As evidenced by the case of the Whitley Researchers, collaborative research with community groups already exists at UoR. However, the delegates realised there was limited coordination between the people who are doing it. It was deemed important to avoid stepping on people’s toes and to encourage collaboration and sharing of best practice. -Mapping existing collaborative research with communities at UoR. Facilitating knowledge sharing between them on best practice. Deciding on where a science shop should sit, institutionally, within UoR.


Learning and next steps

In this post, I have described the findings of a workshop held by the Participation Lab to explore the possibility of developing a science shop at UoR. The workshop enabled representatives of academic staff, university students, teaching and learning staff, and community groups to learn about what a science shop would involve. It would most likely take the form of an individual or organisation, based at UoR, who would be responsible for working with the local community to identify their research needs. They would subsequently respond to these needs by connecting community groups with academic staff and students in relevant fields of expertise, to facilitating collaborative research benefiting both the university and the community.

The workshop also enabled the Participation Lab to learn about what these mutual benefits would be. Specifically, a science shop would benefit the community by providing a centralised point of contact to which they could bring their research needs. Community groups indicated they could benefit from collaborative research that would inform their practice and strengthen their influence on policy. A science shop would also benefit UoR by helping it meet its aim of conducting cutting-edge research that is informed by and responsive to the needs of society. Equally, it would enhance teaching and learning through engaging students in community-based research, and enabling them to develop new research and social skills.

However, the workshop also raised some potential challenges in the creation of a science shop. In particular, these involved balancing the interests of the university and the community, and avoiding duplication of effort within UoR. The proposed solutions to these challenges included scoping the nature and extent of community groups’ research needs, mapping existing collaborative research at UoR, providing rigorous recruitment and training of students and academic staff, and managing expectations about what is possible.

Following the workshop, representatives from the Participation Lab developed a set of next-steps to be taken. These are:

  1. Map existing collaborative research with communities at UoR and write up case studies and examples of good practice. Define the opportunities for student engagement in this research.
  2. Meet in September with a core group of interested actors who can help take this forward.
  3. To hold a training session for academic staff on best practice in participatory, collaborative research.
  4. Conduct a scoping exercise to establish the nature and extent of community groups’ research needs. Identify small pots of funding that could be used to support this.
  5. Aim to submit a funding bid in 2018 for a member of staff to act as a ‘science shop coordinator.’

Follow the Participation Lab blog and Twitter (@participlab) for further updates! Please get in touch if you are interested in being involved with this exciting initiative.

New Think-Piece: Law in the Time of Cholera

We are pleased to publish our latest Think-Piece blogpost by Prof. Rosa Freedman (University of Reading) and Dr Nicolas Lemay-Hebert (University of Birmingham):

Law In The Time Of Cholera: Seeking Justice from the United Nations for Haiti’s Cholera Victims

Registration OPEN for our Second Annual Workshop

Participation for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development: a one day workshop

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is a global plan of action “for people, planet and prosperity”, encompassing both social and environmental concerns. Participation of all members of society is central to meeting and monitoring the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

There is a wealth of existing knowledge around innovative ways of engaging with community members and stakeholders at a range of scales, in a variety of socio-economic contexts, and with a diversity of methods from more passive big data approaches, to mass participation citizen science to participatory action research.

This one day event will explore how methods across this spectrum of approaches can be used to meet and monitor, and engage people with, the SDGs, as well as find synergies between them.

Register here

Download the workshop programme here

0930-1000 Registration (tea/coffee provided)
1000-1015 Welcome and introduction
1015-1100 Sustainable Development Goals: what do we know about them?
1100-1200 How are people connected to the SDGs through research
1200-1215 The SDGs and Academic Groups
1215-1315 Lunch
1315-1415 Methodological approaches to collecting data and engaging people
1415-1430 Tea/coffee
1430-1530 Taking things forward (1): challenges and opportunities for ethics and funding
1545-1630 Taking things forward (2): whole group discussion, and closing remarks

Students build giant lego house to highlight key community issues

Students at the John Madejski Academy (JMA), Reading built a life-size house out of giant Lego blocks with the help of architects, as they constructed a vision of their ideal ‘home’.

The JMA hosted the first Whitley for Real project on Wednesday 10th May 2017, facilitated by the Whitley Researchers and Sally Lloyd-Evans. Students from Years 8 and 12 worked together as a team – named by them as ‘The Royalty’ – using 1,500 ‘bricks’ measuring up to 75 cm long to construct their home.

Whitley for Real is a partnership between Reading Borough Council, JMA, Reading Girls School, the Whitley Researchers and the Whitley Community Development Association (WCDA), Whitley Big Local, the University of Reading’s Participation Lab, Reading UKCIC  and a range  of stakeholders including Bewley Homes, Whitley Excellent Cluster (WEC)  primary schools and the community.  The home-building project, funded by Reading UKCIC and with support from Bewley Homes, the Whitley Researchers and involving academics from the University’s Participation Lab, focused on young people’s attitudes to what makes a ‘welcome home’ in Whitley.

Read the full press release here.

Youth Wellbeing Network

We are pleased to launch the Youth Wellbeing Network, a global network of policymakers, practitioners, researchers and youth supporting a holistic approach to young people’s psychosocial wellbeing, care and support.

For updates, visit our Facebook page: and join our group to share information about events, resources and to network: