Landscapes Forum > Co-produced research: Between volunteering and overdoing it

At Bennachie we have great examples of community-led and collaborative research and our forthcoming publication will show them off to very good effect. An important task is to keep this momentum going, draw more people in, and enable everyone to develop research interests and follow them up. Two key issues are how we continue to bring people into the group and make them ‘research active’, and on the other hand how we prevent people who are involved becoming overburdened or under pressure to do more than they can. It’s about trying to encourage more participation while making sure it doesn’t get too much – a tricky balance!

Increasing the numbers of active community researchers amongst us would certainly be good. There is no shortage of work to do, and we have shown that all kinds of fields of research that are often closed off to non-professionals can actually be undertaken in partnership or be directly led by them. But how to get more people in? We seem to have used three main strategies so far. First are press releases, websites and so on. These have the advantage of reaching a wide range of people, and we have had participants who have seen reports in local newspapers. National media coverage is also good, despite the occasional choice of salacious wording. Second is closer-to-home advertising, especially in and around the Bennachie Centre. Simple measures such as chalking up notices on the blackboard outside the Centre can be really effective in showing people that things are happening – and the people who see it are a core audience who are already at the hill. Third is the most targeted method, where we directly approach people face to face, on email or by phone to get them to take part. I did a fair bit of this for the oral history day last June and although it’s the most time-consuming I suspect that it has the best results. But overall a strategy of trying all these things at once is probably the way forward – and building into the project plan the time and commitment for them is essential.

The kind of involvement people have when they are part of the active group of course varies a lot. I did a short round of interviews with some of the more regular ‘regulars’ a few weeks ago – in the context of surveying work at Burnside and also a Bailies work party happening at the same time. A point that was apparent straight away was that people were not going to be able to attend both! It brought home to me how we need to get enough people involved while not having to rely on the same people to contribute to everything.

The interviews pointed up the enthusiasm people have for all kinds of work at Bennachie – learning about the landscape generally and the specific skills of archaeology, archival work, oral history and so on. There were also comments about the satisfaction of connecting with actual people (as it were) in the Colony, based on the relative historical closeness of our research rather than the very distant past. Yet those I spoke to also recognise that decisions need to be made about what to commit to and how to fit things in. A common theme was that although a certain research activity might be new, once you try it you may find yourself getting pulled in by it - ‘that’ll get a hold of you’, as one put it. In a positive sense it can also result in a range of options to choose from, as someone else said: ‘I’m feeling perhaps a little bit overwhelmed because there are so many, so much going on and I find it all so interesting and I want to sort of do it all.’ Others have not taken up invitations to do pieces of work just because they don’t have the time. This is probably inevitable in the way we are working but we do need to bear it in mind as our work proceeds – and the same is true of university staff who have only a small amount of their time officially committed to Bennachie work. I appreciate an idea that I think came from Colin Shepherd, who said that Bennachie isn’t going anywhere, and neither are we (as a community at any rate) – so we don’t need to finish everything within a single project. Recognising that there will be a balance between making progress and not over-stretching ourselves is important for our work.

May 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJo Vergunst

Thanks for that great post Jo! I think it really puts into coherent form something many of us have been thinking about and experiencing in various ways. Certainly the pull in many different directions from several interesting and valuable research avenues is one that I feel myself, and I am lucky enough to be working full time on the project. It is important to recognise that those who are most engaged sometimes need support to not take part in certain activities without feeling guilty about it.

For this reason, the point you made at the start of the post is vital. We need to have a coherent strategy for bringing in more members to our community who are as actively engaged as our wonderful existing core already are.

If there are any great ideas on how to further this aim, everyone please let us know!

May 16, 2013 | Registered CommenterLeaf

A very thoughtful and valuable contribution indeed; with good ideas for getting the word out, while at the same time balancing expectations.

I’m meeting with Leaf tomorrow to begin planning for the dig. We’ll be making sure to keep these things in mind.

May 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJeff