What is the Institute for Community Studies?

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The Institute for Community Studies is a new kind of research institute, with people and communities at its heart. We believe that involvement of communities leads to better decision making on the issues that most affect them. We engage with communities and experts across the UK to identify and prioritise the top questions that research and policy need to answer based on what matters, directing research towards the most urgent and salient questions and amplifying community perspectives.

Simultaneously, we prove and improve our practice by understanding what we know and what’s working, through systematic engagement with communities, the sector and experts to tell us collectively where the weaknesses are and the gaps in understanding. 

Finally, we provoke direct engagement with policy makers, business and those holding the power to change the experience of communities today through determining who cares to take action. 

Why is the Institute for Community Studies needed?

The Institute for Community Studies is needed to encourage and support more equal relationships between institutions and communities. There is increasing distrust of ‘elite’ institutions and there has been a surge of suspicion between people and traditional sources of knowledge and power. Many feel let down by government, and are very distant from the world of academia. This has accelerated the focus on communities themselves as a fundamental part of solving some of the big problems we face. Bringing local communities into the research process, as opposed to viewing them as a unit of analysis facilitates new forms of research and makes it possible to gather data and insights in ways previously considered impossible.

How are we doing this?

Community involvement exists at the core of our approach to research. People from communities across the UK form part of our governance. Using a unique blend of methods, we are co-creating a research agenda with communities. As part of the evidence gathering for what’s working to drive sustained, positive change in communities, we are giving increasing weight to the stories, experience and evidence created in communities supported through growing a national network of community researchers. Drawing upon the intellectual heritage and social impact of our founder Michael Young, we seek to make data and evidence visible, understandable and useful to anyone working in a placed-based context, regardless of their background.

That doesn’t mean we discount the knowledge of traditional institutions. Far from it. We believe we understand society better when we look at it from different points of view. We want to create an open knowledge platform for all those working to support and involve communities in research and innovation. By bridging institutional expertise with the real-life experiences of communities on the front line, we will – together - have better insight into our social problems and how to tackle them. 

In practice, this will mean more public involvement in research and innovation on a number of key, jointly identified issues to support thriving society and communities. We now early geographical mapping of ‘what matters’ to people at a regional level, which will form the basis of our collective research activities in 2020 and beyond. 

A shared endeavour

Research of this complexity and scale is a shared endeavour and few studies have used the true power of pluralistic and interdisciplinary methods to look at these universal, social questions in the round. The Institute builds on its strong lineage of qualitative and deep ethnographic methods, founded under Michael Young, in combination with quantitative, big-data, trend and policy analysis and participatory methods, in order to achieve a unique depth of insight and scale of participation hitherto unrealised (in community studies). 

As a platform for sharing knowledge, the Institute works with partners across all communities, academia, third and voluntary sector and socially-conscious private enterprises, engaging ‘multiple publics in multiple ways’ to avoid replicating the social divisions and power imbalances that have stricken our society in recent years. We make research and evidence accessible and valuable to those who need it, informing action and ensuring the smooth flow of people and ideas that is the hallmark of a successful research endeavour. Through a solution-based approach, we seek to reach consensus collectively about the best pathways for change. In this way, the Institute seeks to inspire and facilitate a collective movement towards more connected, inclusive and impactful research that can transform communities’ experience in the UK.

Find out more

In 2020, we published the first co-created research agenda for communities, and our first wave of partners. We would like to hear from academics, research institutions, private sector companies and local governments who are aligned to our mission and see value in bridging the divides between people, power and knowledge. Contact emily.morrison@icstudies.org.uk to find out more.