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The Democratic Context


The democratic context of civic engagement, explores what the democratisation of knowledge about communities means in practice. New forms of knowledge are emerging about communities and how they change, with opportunities opening up for voices to be heard that have previously been marginalised. We are particularly interested in what community members think about how the future of their communities has been imagined, and how new technologies are making it possible for these views to be expressed. In addition to reviewing what has been written in the field so far, Participedia will look at how innovations in democratic decision-making at the community level can be shared around the globe and in Imagine Sheppey the method of collaborative video will be used as a means for young people to express their views about the future of their communities. We are also interested in how visions of the future were created in past communities, because there are lessons here for our understanding of how some voices come to be more prominent than others, and how the imagination of better community futures surrounded by debate and controversy about what should be aimed for and how it can be achieved.

Work package 4 includes:

Doctoral research in:

‘Interesting or Useful’: A review of outputs of the Connected Communities programme and the South-East Coastal Communities programme

This review asks ‘How can Connected Communities be conceptualised, researched and promoted, so that they have the potential to accommodate and benefit from social, cultural and economic differences and diverse opinions and practices?’

We compiled a list and summary description of 80+ (of the 300+) Connected Communities and South East Coastal Communities (SECC) projects and asked groups of community partners to consider how ‘interesting’ and/or ‘useful’ they found the outputs (i.e. reports, articles, annotated bibliographies, posters, research tools) of each project. One community partner group had been involved in the SECC programme and the others were recruited through the Community Partner Network. They were asked to select a few projects based on their titles and a brief project description and then to evaluate how useful/ interesting they thought their outputs were from a CP point of view. Although the number of community partner organisations was only four, this was enough to highlight the heterogeneity of the category ‘community partners’. All community partner organisations were paid for their time.

Definitions of ‘useful’ and ‘interesting’ were deliberately left open and in turn used in different ways by the different respondents. Nevertheless, Connected Communities researchers can gain a sense of their audiences’ outlooks.

Many seemed to favour easy to use toolkits, highlighting examples of good practice from Durham University and the University of Brighton in their publications for the Connected Communities programme. This does lead to the bigger question of the relationships between academic and community outputs. The ‘local’ perspectives of community partners may not always make the connections with research from elsewhere that turns out to have parallels or illuminating contrasts.

Many questions are highlighted in the study: What is the value of academic input in the issue of what knowledge exchange involves – is it exchange of information, knowledge, skills, experience, or kudos? What are the appropriate outputs? Are they parallel, always producing an academic output as well as community-oriented outputs? Or does the nature of co-production of research mean that the co-production of outputs is crucial to creating interesting and useful outputs?

The research outputs report is available as a PDF file. Download Research Output Report

Jaimie Ellis delivered a presentation on the project at the 6th ESRC Research Methods Festival called ‘Democratisation in theory and (one example of) practice’. It is available to view at

The summary of outputs we compiled for this project is available as a PDF file. Download Output Summary

Graham Crow
Jaimie Ellis
Paul Ward


PARTICIPEDIA is an open-access platform that aims to collate cases of democratic innovations: participatory processes designed to increase and deepen citizen participation in contemporary governance at all levels and from all over the world. Such democratic innovations are examples of (quoting the Consortium proposal) ‘community forms that engage with members of communities, with decision-making by community members, for community members’. Unlike other more traditional aspects of the political process, no records or statistics on the variety of democratic innovations are collected by official agencies and attempts to collect and analyze data by both academics and civil society organizations has been piecemeal at best.

Participedia provides a platform that enables those who hold knowledge of such participatory processes – including academics, students, civil society practitioners and activists, government practitioners and citizens – to upload materials and structured data on cases. The structured data is collated in an open-access database. It is an example of actively crowdsourcing data from different communities of practice. The aim is for the site to spark the imagination of practitioners and activists around the world about what is possible and to provide both descriptive and quantitative data for researchers (within and without the academy) to better understand what works and under what conditions.

The Participedia project within Imagine was led by Graham Smith, Professor of Politics, Centre for the Study of Democracy, University of Westminster.

Work supported by the consortium

Lessons from Participedia

Participedia feeds into the Imagine in two ways.

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Imagine Sheppey: Young People’s Imagined Futures


Imagine Sheppey Fast Forward, Final Event, Blue Town Heritage Centre Sheppey, October 2014.

Imagine Sheppey Fast Forward started in October 2013 and was funded for one year; data collection, analysis, and arts-based work took place in spring and summer 2014. The project was interested in young people – 16 and 17 year olds on the brink of adult lives – and how they imagine their futures. This includes a focus on young people’s plans, hopes, wishes, images and general orientations in relation to their own trajectories as well as how they imagine the places in which they live and the communities of which they are part taking shape into the future.

The Imagine Sheppey team was made up of sociologists, Dawn Lyon and Giulia Carabelli; artists Peter Hatton, Val Murray and Lynn Pilling (; and a community partner, the Blue Town Heritage Centre, as well as young residents of Sheppey.

Central to the project activities were a series of one-day workshops designed and led by the artists Tea in collaboration with the sociologists. This series of Fast Forward workshops aimed to explore meaning and transformation in different places: residential, work, and leisure. The workshops, which were led by the artists group Tea, involved creating temporary installations and performances using found and made objects, recorded through photography and video. We also organised a collage-making workshop for the core participants, and carried out focus groups with a wider group.

As one of the main outcomes, Tea put together a video based on the recordings of the workshops, which was first presented on Sheppey at a community event in the Blue Town Heritage Centre on October 2014. This is a key outcome of the project that will generate an ongoing dialogue about the process of young people imagining their futures, for participants and future viewers alike.




Imagine Sheppey Fast Forward, Workshop May 2014.

Follow Imagine Sheppey on Facebook

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Democratising Communities

In ‘Democratising communities’, the Imagine project will review the literatures on the democratisation of community research in the light of experiences across the consortium. This project will run towards the end of the consortium’s time, allowing a range of materials relating to the theory and practice of democratising community research to be pulled together, including reflections on the wider lessons from the consortium’s various projects. Alongside academic outputs, we will also re-work materials generated across the consortium, particularly those produced for the consortium’s annual events, to produce accessible, practical guides on the potential and pitfalls of collaborative community research.

History and the future

Paul Ward, Professor of Modern British History, University of Huddersfield


Sound System Culture is a community arts and heritage project that documents the lives and experiences of those who were involved in Huddersfield’s reggae sound system culture. Led by Mandeep Samra and Let’s Go (Yorkshire), it was community designed but supported by academic staff and PhD students at the University of Huddersfield. Heritage HiFi was built by built by Paul Huxtable of Axis Sound. Photo by Liz Pente. Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License (CC-by)

I joined the Imagine: Connecting Communities Through Research to enable the development of a stronger historical perspective across the consortium as a whole and to explore the implications of the co-production of research for the academic discipline of History. I also coordinate work package 4.

My contribution to Imagine is both overarching and in relation to specific projects. I seek to provide historical and historiographical knowledge for the consortium as a whole, focusing on two aspects. First is the historical context in which civic engagement operates. Civic engagement has a national history as well as local histories, and imagining the future has been a consistent theme in community participation. This sense of historical groundedness seeks to inform the consortium as a whole. The second aspect considers whether there is a ‘sense of history’ that encourages civic engagement/community participation.

In some cases, such as oral history/local history projects, this is an obvious and primary motivation. In others, a sense of the past is more tangential. In still other cases, the ideas of the futures to be created by civic engagement can be seen as a repudiation of the past. There is significantly more to community history than celebration of the past and many communities recognize their less attractive sides.

In the spirit of co-design of research, Ward will work with community partners within the consortium who see this question as significant, drawing on his previous work with a range of community organisations to inform this process. In this way, arts and humanities aspects of the project are integrated at a strategic and conceptual level, by bringing to the fore the question of how communities make and engage with their own histories to imagine their futures.

This involves examining how communities produce outputs from their historical experiences and then use them to develop their futures. A significant aspect of this relates to the use of localised historical narratives to generate civic pride, with such pride then leading to civic engagement. This links to areas I am interested in exploring as a historian, including locality and place and relationship to ‘larger’ identities or affiliations such as ‘nation’.

I have been involved in a number of community-based projects including Sound System Culture and Bhangra Renaissance and I work with Kirklees Local TV, an internet-based television station.

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Making change in Communities: What motivates women to become involved, and how do they sustain their interests in community voluntarism, activism and everyday anticipatory practices?

Maggie Laidlaw. Imagine profile image

Maggie Laidlaw
PhD Research Student in Sociology

We have all at one time or another considered our place in the future, whether through simply trying to structure our own lives, or through imagining better futures for our families, our communities, or even wider society. By positioning ‘futures’ in the plural, this study is exploring the diversity of ways in which women actively engage with their communities in activism [1] and voluntary practices that benefit themselves, their families, and the wider community. Reflecting on the temporalities within the everydayness of women’s community practices may uncover how dimensions of time (such as speed, rhythm, sustainability, and longevity) intermingle with expectations of social change.

The study will focus on the volunteered time of women who have a variety of reasons for being involved in their voluntary work, the various ways in which these women manage the competing demands on their time within their everyday lives, and how these groups sit alongside each other, uncovering interesting contrasts and commonalities between them.

There is relatively little knowledge and understanding of the everyday practicalities and temporal experiences of women’s community activism and their voluntary and anticipatory practices. It may be the case that these practices are becoming increasingly invisible (Jupp, 2014). This study focuses upon these gaps and explores what motivates women to become involved, and how they sustain their interests within the often multi-faceted components of their lives. it looks at how they experience and envisage change in the short and long term, and thus deal with varying speeds and rates of change, and why their contributions continue to be hidden within the larger picture of community activism and voluntarism (Callaghan, 2011; Dominelli, 1990; Jupp, 2014).

Our future imaginings involve politics, fun, hopes, fears, desires, pauses, moments, connections, pondering, mobilisation and remobilisations – all of which highlight the different things that we need from life, and all of which may act as incentives or hindrances for change. This study should hopefully help to inform, and to develop better understanding of the temporal qualities of society that are required to create social change at a scale and rate that connects individuals and communities with their futures.

[1] For the purpose of this study community activism is taken to mean a set of practices that can involve formal and informal transformative practices, working for or against forms of authority and power and that are intertwined within the everyday lives of those involved (Newman, 2012)

School of Social and Political Science
University of Edinburgh

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In and out of focus – community connections and the changing relationship between informal and statutory welfare in Scotland over the last 150 years

Rawcliffe PicSue Rawcliffe at the University of Strathclyde

In the context of communities now being seen to be centre stage in addressing some of the ‘tricky’ welfare issues of the 21 century, this PhD is looking to explore what the history of the changing relationship between informal and statutory welfare provision over the last 150 years in Scotland, indicates about the connections that are key to communities, particularly low income communities, playing a role in relation to welfare.

The research will develop a series of historical moments or snapshots to examine the nature and extent of community involvement in welfare at key points in the last 150 years. It will then work with current community organisations to see what impact, if any, developing an understanding of the snapshots, has on how they might imagine their future. The snapshots currently under consideration are periods of change or crisis – the 1840s, early 1900s, 1920s and the 1980s. The ‘moments’ will focus on Glasgow, although within a wider Scottish context, and will also pay particular attention to the issues of food poverty and care for older people.

The research is being carried out by Sue Rawcliffe who is working with Professor Bernard Harris at the University of Strathclyde and Professor Graham Crow at the University of Edinburgh. Sue undertook her undergraduate studies in History at the University of York, a Masters in Social Work at the University of East Anglia and her MBA at Glasgow Caledonian University. Sue is a qualified social worker and is returning to study with 30 years’ experience working across the community and voluntary sectors, local government, health and NDPBs.  Sue’s poster was runner up in University of Strathclyde HaSS Graduate School Poster and Pitch Competition 2015.



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Public History and Regeneration: A Co-Production Approach

Elizabeth_penteElizabeth Pente at the University of Huddersfield

My name is Elizabeth Pente and I am a PhD student at the University of Huddersfield. I received a Bachelor of Science degree in Archaeology and Geology from Dickinson College in 2007 and earned my Master of Arts degree in Historical Studies with a concentration in Public History from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) in 2013. My PhD project is tentatively titled Public History and Regeneration: A Co-Production Approach.

Public history is a term that has been used to describe a variety of work that brings historical knowledge to the public. Central to public history is the notion of collaboration, that in bringing history to the public, historians are working together with stakeholders outside of academia. I hope to explore the concept of co-production and how historians engage community stakeholders in decisions about delivery and interpretation of their histories.

As part of the PhD process, I am working with Professor Paul Ward on “Imagine: Connecting Communities Through Research,” which aims to achieve collaboration between universities and local community groups at all stages of the research process. This approach seeks to democratize the research process to generate new knowledge which can help to imagine the ways in which communities can be different. The history aspect of this undertaking will explore how people use the past to influence their current lives and whether a ‘sense of history’ fosters civic engagement.

I am also a member of the National Council on Public History (NCPH) and the International Federation for Public History (IFPH).

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