Arts and Humanities researchers and civil society organisations come together to find practical ways to share knowledge and work together, with mutual benefits

A new open access portfolio was launched last week at the Trinity Long Room Hub, Trinity College Dublin to provide an initial guide for how Arts and Humanities researchers and academics can apply their research for societal good outside of the university.

There are many challenges currently facing societies at local, national, and global level, from climate change to homelessness to the cost of living crisis. Unequal access to education spans across these challenges and is a significant factor in ongoing societal inequalities. The CEPRAH project – Community Engagement Praxis for Research in the Arts and Humanities – brings together the unique perspectives offered by Arts and Humanities academic research, and the experience and understanding of civil society organisations working on the ground in Ireland.

The CEPRAH project team was Prof Eve Patten (PI), Dr Elspeth Payne, Dr Caoimhe Whelan, Dr Eve Cobain, Dr Joan Cronin, Dr Caitriona Curtis, Dr Leah Dowdall, and Dr Giovanna Lima. The portfolio was authored by Dr Elspeth Payne, Dr Caoimhe Whelan, and Professor Eve Patten.

This new portfolio, now free to access online,  offers a pathway to considering how this collaboration can take place. The project was led by the Trinity Long Room Hub Arts and Humanities Research Institute, Trinity College Dublin, and AONTAS, Ireland’s National Adult Learning Organisation, and was funded by an Irish Research Council New Foundations Grant (Strand 1a).

Given the scope of current national and global challenges, university and Government policies – as well as European funding schemes – are increasingly focused on how academic research can engage with civil society organisations, such as AONTAS, The Wheel, and the Limerick Community Education Network. The goal is to find new and innovative ways of tackling the issues we face as a society. Examples such as the Creating our Future project  demonstrate Government interest in this approach.

Currently, AH researchers may be missing out on the benefits of bringing their work into active dialogue with societies and communities outside the university. At the core AH research are human values and historical or socio-political insights, while at the same time cultivating critical thinking skills, empathy and imagination. CSOs have a wealth of knowledge and experience of working among communities across the country. They could also benefit from collaboration with universities, including access to academic experts in their fields, to research and texts, and to space and funding. Collaboration can be transformative, with both sectors bringing unique skills, knowledge, and perspectives to the partnership.

“The CEPRAH experience gave us a tremendous opportunity to see the full potential of partnerships between CSOs and Arts Humanities researchers. Both sides learn, and both sides benefit. I’m looking forward to building further on the shared foundation that the project has given us” – Professor Eve Patten, Director of the Trinity Long Room Hub

At the launch event in the Hub, Jimmy Prior, coordinator of the Family Resource Centre in Southill, Limerick, said that the project has the opportunity to include CSOs in the conversation and to send out the message that Trinity is open to communities, and that CSOs are also recognised as experts in their fields with much to offer AH research. He suggested the use of Public Participation Networks across the country to tap into existing structures and create relationships and collaborative opportunities.

The new portfolio offers case studies with examples of the application of AH research for the benefit of civil society. These range from asking how poetry can benefit environmental activism to how singing can promote social inclusion to how film can foster empathy.

“It is absolutely vital that people who are working for a common goal come together and support each other” – Dr Niamh O’Reilly, AONTAS CEO

CEPRAH builds on the existing engaged research scholarship, particularly the work of Campus Engage, to focus specifically on the experiences, challenges, and opportunities for Arts and Humanities researchers working in the Republic of Ireland. This new CEPRAH portfolio provides tailored resources and case studies to give examples and ideas of what engaged research can mean for Arts and Humanities researchers, and to suggest pathways to collaboration with CSOs.

The portfolio is based on detailed analysis of the existing engaged research landscape in Ireland, one-on-one interviews, and a networking event. It investigates current barriers to engagement such as gaps in understanding between AH researchers and CSOs, different funding calls and structures, and different priorities and workload pressures.

Recommendations include the valuing and support of engaged research at the highest level in universities, administrative support and training, rewarding and celebrating of engaged research and the provision of resources including “brokerage services”, where universities facilitate partner matchmaking between AH academics and CSOs.

“Engagement is going to be an important part of research going forward,” according to Dr Elspeth Payne, one of the organisers of the CEPRAH project and the coordinator of the Schuler Democracy Forum, which will be taking the findings from the CEPRAH project and applying them to bring AH research into active engagement in the civic and community sphere. The Schuler Democracy Forum and the Trinity Long Room Hub Arts and Humanities Policy Initiative

will be taking the findings from the CEPRAH project and applying them to

bring AH research into active engagement in the civic and community sphere.

For more on the CEPRAH project click here, and click here to access the new portfolio and case studies.

A follow-up event is being planned for Autumn 2022.

For more information, contact Elspeth Payne (payneel@tcd.ie).