New Think-Piece: including men within research on informality?

In our latest Think-Piece, Nathan Salvidge, Doctoral Research Student in Geography & Environmental Science at the University of Reading, discusses his recent research on gender relations in informal work in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Informal work is expected to continue to grow and remain a vital source of income for millions of people within urban localities across the global South for many decades. In this blogpost, Nathan reflects on the need to include men within gender analyses of informality, based on the findings of his preliminary research. Nathan is currently conducting participatory fieldwork on gender and generational dynamics of informal work in Tanzania. Read more here.

The needs of ethnic minority women in Reading: important research co-produced with women learners

Dr. Sally Lloyd-Evans and Dr. Lorna Zischka from the Participation Lab worked with women connected to Reading Community Learning Centre (RCLC) to co-produce research into the needs of  ethnic minority women in Reading. The report was launched on 19th July 2018 at Reading Community Learning Centre with a welcome and introduction from Sarah del Tufo, Chair of the Board of Trustees of RCLC and from the Right Worshipful Mayor of Reading, followed by a presentation of the research process and findings by Sally Lloyd-Evans, Lorna Zischka, Raya Mohammed and Hadil Tamim, RCLC learners who had conducted interviews with their peers.


The research sought to understand:

  • What do ethnic minority women outside RCLC networks need?
  • How do other stakeholder and service providers perceive RCLC?
  • What do women inside RCLC say they need to grow their skills, confidence, welfare, inclusion, social status and independence?

Following training, RCLC learners conduced questionnaire-based interviews in respondents’ first language with 114 black and ethnic minority women (over 70% from outside of RCLC). The interviews focused on their everyday lives and circumstances, ambitions and hopes, barriers and concerns, social networks, connections and wellbeing. Interviews were also conducted with organisations serving vulnerable communities by Hayley Ryall and Bethany Brown, University of Reading undergraduate placement students.


The research found that RCLC is meeting a genuine need that is not provided by other organisations in Reading. English language learning and developing social ties (especially cross-cultural social ties) were identified as important needs of ethnic minority women. English language and building social relationships were found to be mutually reinforcing, so the fact that RCLC addresses both together is a particular strength of their approach.  Many women lacked alternative opportunities to develop their language skills and cross-cultural connections.


RCLC appears to be targeting those communities most in need of its particular services, with most of its clientele drawn from migrants from the Arab world and South Asia who tended to struggle with language issues and were vulnerable in terms of their distance from the work place and lack of knowledge about mainstream British cultures. Highly educated women and women whose families had money did not necessarily have a higher level of social and workplace integration. Although priority is often given to new arrivals in the UK, an important number of women remain marginalised even after many years living in the UK and should not be automatically excluded from language and skills training provided by community centres such as RCLC.


Strengths identified in RCLC’s approach which increased the accessibility of services to ethnic minority women included: a friendly multi-cultural environment which helped to build confidence; low cost/ free services, which is important to 80% of those interviewed, especially since investments in women’s knowledge and skills is not necessarily a priority for struggling families; women only learning environments, various levels of English and courses other than English; creche to enable women with small children to participate, daytime classes, central location, well networked community centre which can signpost on to other services, volunteering opportunities which help women to take further steps towards social and workplace integration.






The research also highlighted the dilemma that community-based organisations like RCLC may face regarding the length of time learners are able to study with RCLC and facilitating learners to progress on to other study and work opportunities. While continuity of relationships was very much valued, women also identified their ambitions and hopes to gain employment and qualifications through accessible accredited courses. The research therefore recommended that RCLC could do more to help clients to map their personal progression paths from RCLC into other areas of integration appropriate to their circumstances and to improve collaboration with other organisations, for example on issues of funding and on giving women a voice.

To conclude the presentation, Joanne Davis, Comic Relief Impact and Investment Regional Advisor gave her reflections and interesting questions were raised and discussions were held with members of the audience.

To find out more, check out the slide presentation or look out for the report to follow in the coming weeks!

Contact: Sally Lloyd-Evans, Participation Lab Leader


The study was commissioned by Reading Community Learning Centre and funded by Comic Relief and the Participation Lab, University of Reading.


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!

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: