I really enjoyed my two days at Warwick University at the Local Area Research & Intelligence Association’s annual conference. It proved to me that in an age of austerity local research is needed more than ever to aid decision making and shape the reinvention of local services into something that is leaner but still fit for the future.
We heard from Martin Reeves the Chief Exec of Coventry City Council on what he wanted from local area researchers, in a word focus! That is to say focus on three topic areas.
- Integration of health & social care; will this be effective in delivering both better services and cost savings;
- Insight; particularly insight into what motivates people to volunteer and work with local services (co-production in local government speak) to support their neighbourhoods;
- The economy; particularly around issues of getting the right sort of sustainable growth that will deliver long term benefits.
I’ll certainly be testing Martin’s ideas with senior people here in Cambridgeshire to see if they correspond to what people need from me and my team over the next 12 months.
Continuing the theme we also heard a lot more about co-production from the likes of Professor Tony Bovaird from Birmingham University. For us as researchers it is going to be a challenge to develop our thinking in how we evaluate the effectiveness of projects.
Away from the main speakers and into the workshop sessions I was particularly impressed with the use of peer research to tackle loneliness (and by extension improve community cohesion) by Joseph Rowntree and the subsequent evaluation by QA research. http://www.jrf.org.uk/work/workarea/neighbourhood-approaches-loneliness
Doctor Suzanne Audrey presented some thought provoking insight into the take-up of the ‘free-swim’ initiative and I was really pleased to talk to colleagues at the National College for Policing about building an evidence base for policing and community safety initiatives something that I now hope to be participating in over the next 12 months.
So a really boost for research and a personal boost for me. I know that our work is valued here in Cambridgeshire but it is great to hear that the wider profession (and it is a profession!) of local authority research is alive and well across the UK.