What is the Institute for Community Studies?


The Institute for Community Studies is a new kind of research institute, with people and communities at its heart. We believe the involvement of communities leads to better decision making on the issues that most affect them. We engage with communities and experts across the United Kingdom to identify and prioritise the top questions that research needs to answer, amplifying community perspectives and directing policymakers and other researchers toward the most urgent and salient questions.

The Institute seeks to encourage more equal relationships between institutions and communities. We aim to challenge a dominant commissioning model that is too often detached and extractive, with little or no insight into what really matters to communities themselves. We seek to create structures and approaches that allow local communities to be equal partners in a shared endeavour around how knowledge is produced, how evidence is prioritised and valued and how policy is created. Our work is set by a research agenda designed by communities, for communities, and through an ongoing process of listening and priority-setting in partnership.

As a platform for creating, curating and sharing knowledge, the Institute works with partners across the public, private and third sectors and academia to engage ‘multiple publics in multiple ways’ that avoid replicating and deepening the power imbalances that run through society. We work with:

  • community representatives and community organisations keen to produce or use knowledge to solve local and societal issues;

  • policymakers at national, combined authority and local level who seek to involve communities in finding solutions or shaping policy and systems;

  • funders of research, innovation and system change seeking to make their work more sensitive to, or deliver greater benefit for, communities;

  • practitioners and researchers within and outside of academia committed to engaging lived experience and building collective evidence with communities.

A shared endeavour

Established by sociologist Michael Young in 1948, the Institute for Community Studies is a core part of The Young Foundation and draws on its strong lineage of qualitative and deep ethnographic methods. It has a particular focus on participatory methods and a growing emphasis on quantitative, data-driven analyses to build a richer picture of life in the United Kingdom today.

Its current portfolio of programmes sees the Institute working alongside:

  • the Nuffield Foundation, to better understand how policy and strategies can address the issues that families in deprived communities face as they navigate the transition to Net Zero;

  • the National Citizen Service CIC, to reimagine the ‘civic journey’ that young people experience from adolescence to adulthood;

  • UKRI, to explore new ways to bring the research and innovation system closer to communities, and particularly those most at risk of marginalisation;

  • Sheffield Hallam University and the National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement, to support the Civic University Network to reshape relationships between universities and the communities that they serve;

  • the British Academy, Power to Change and the Bennett Institute for Public Policy, to understand what ‘social infrastructure’ means to local people, how that relates to international experience, and how it can be translated into meaningful policy change.

Community involvement exists at the core of our approach to research and governance. We seek to give increasing weight to the stories, experience and evidence created in communities, supported through our growing national network of civic scholars and community researchers. By bridging institutional expertise with the real-life experience of communities, we believe we can – together – build a stronger, safer and more inclusive society for all.

To find out more about the Institute for Community Studies and how we can work with you, please contact our Associate Director, Richard Harries.