35 delegates from universities and CSOs across England and Wales met in London on Wednesday 5th October to discuss the challenges and opportunities involved in collaborating on joint working initiatives. Participants reported the workshop to be useful with one summing up with, “We are all in it together. Collaboration is key. We need to put our differences behind us and move forward for a better, fairer food system”.
The day began with a welcome from Professor Corinna Hawkes (FRC), and short presentations from Victoria Schoen (FRC) on lessons from the literature on the benefits and challenges of collaboration (see presentation), and experiences on the ground from Mark Dooris (University of Central Lancashire) and Mark Fishpool (Middlesborough Environment City). Participants discussed their own experiences of collaboration around the three areas of: added value; what CSOs and academics want from each other in a collaboration; and the challenges they perceive.
Some of the key points arising on the benefits of collaboration included:
- Academics may bring in specialised knowledge and evidence to a project to help better achieve change;
- A collaboration can bring renewed energy to the research process;
- Collaboration can offer different perspectives on the same topic;
- Collaboration helps to build and maintain relationships; and,
- Collaboration can lead to more applied results as well as reducing competition for scarce funds.
On the flip side, the difficulties of collaborating may be that:
- the two parties may have different objectives and different timeframes;
- distribution of funds between collaborating parties may prove challenging;
- universities might not formally recognise and value time spent collaborating with non-academics; and
- working in collaboration can be more complicated than working alone.
The afternoon session included a short presentation from the FRC on ideas from the literature on how to achieve successful collaboration (see presentation) and a talk from Rachael Durrant (University of Sussex), on her experiences of CSO-academic collaboration in forming the Brighton and Sussex Universities Food Network. Delegates discussed how the various challenges could be overcome as well as drawing up a list of actions for the FRC to assist the process of collaboration. Suggestions included:
- Assist match making between CSOs and academics who want to collaborate via events, the FRC website and the FRC membership database
- Running workshops on skills needed for CSO-academic collaboration
- Providing case studies of good collaborative practice on the website
- Hosting a web-based collaboration forum for knowledge sharing
- Promote and support meetings and match making of academics and CSOs at the regional level
The FRC have since published a briefing paper “CSO-Academic Collaboration: theory and practice” available here.