What is the Common Cause Research Project?

This project emerges from the ‘Creating Living Knowledge’ report which identified the need to actively foster collaborations between universities and Black and minority ethnic communities in Arts and Humanities research. It seeks to explore how common cause can be made between universities, communities and funding bodies who are looking to create an Arts and Humanities knowledge base that reflects the interests, histories, cultures and experiences of all diverse communities in the UK. Common Cause is part of the Connected Communities programme and is linked to the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) theme Translating Cultures.

The key focus of the project is on collaborative research that is co-produced between universities and Black and minority ethnic communities in the Arts and Humanities field. ‘Co-produced’ in the context of Common Cause refers to research that is undertaken with the active participation of communities, not research that is conducted ‘on’ them. The project will work with arts and community organisations who either originate from within Black and minority ethnic communities, or who are committed to co-producing research with these communities.

Why is this this project being undertaken?

The quality of the knowledge base of the Arts and Humanities depends on its capacity to reflect the breadth and diversity of human experience. The Common Cause project acknowledges there is more to be done to fully realise and take forward the potential for collaboration in this respect between universities and Black and minority ethnic communities.  It is necessary to explore what makes such partnerships work or fail and to understand the obstacles and support that past and present partnerships have encountered in both university and community environments. There is also a need to learn how such partnerships can be extended to include communities that are not yet sufficiently represented and how new conversations, voices and issues can be introduced into the arena.

How are you defining Black and minority ethnic communities?

It has been acknowledged from the outset of developing this project that a number of terms are in frequent use to describe people’s race and ethnicity. Each of these has its limitations and none of the generic terms refer to a single homogenous group of people. Furthermore, generic terms (such as ‘Black and minority ethnic’ and its acronym ‘BME’, ‘Ethnic minorities’ and ‘Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic and Refugee’) and categories (such as ‘British Indian’, ‘Black Caribbean’, ‘White and Black African’ and so on) are widely used but can mask differences in experience between the wide range of specific minority ethnic individuals and groups they encompass.

The term ‘Black and minority ethnic’ is used in the Common Cause project with these limitations in mind to refer to people who are in, or who identify as being in, a minority due to their ethnicity as compared to the majority White British population of the UK. Adopting the term Black and minority ethnic will facilitate comparisons with data held by public bodies and other organisations; wherever possible, the project will aim to be more specific in describing people’s ethnicity and explore how the use of generic terms and categories can impact in various ways on university and Black and minority ethnic community collaboration in Arts and Humanities research.

Why focus on Black and minority ethnic groups?

The project recognises that cultural, heritage, arts and community experiences are not defined by race or ethnic origin alone; gender, class, (dis)ability, geography and many other factors inform life experiences. Equally, it is acknowledged that there is no single ‘Black and minority ethnic community’. Nonetheless, this project recognises that these communities are likely to be under-represented for various reasons in the collaborative research networks of universities and it is therefore appropriate to explore how this might be addressed.

What is the project trying to achieve?

The project is aiming to map, strengthen and increase research collaborations between Black and minority ethnic community organisations and academics currently working in the Arts and Humanities. It will do this by:

  1. Mapping existing and historic research collaborations between universities and Black and minority ethnic communities across the Arts and Humanities
  2. Interviewing key participants in these collaborations
  3. Building an online resource to showcase these projects and learn from them
  4. Running workshops and events to explore and encourage new collaborations
  5. Working across universities and communities to explore how these collaborations might be enhanced and developed in future.

Who is funding the project and why?

The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) is funding the project with additional financial support from the Arts Council England. The AHRC acknowledges that if research in the Arts and Humanities is to reflect the interests, histories, cultures and experiences of all diverse communities in the UK from insider perspectives then action needs to be taken. It is funding the current project to support exploration of where and how common cause can be made between universities, communities and funding bodies to create an Arts and Humanities knowledge base that fully reflects the priorities and experiences of the UK’s Black and minority ethnic communities. The project also represents further strategic investment in the development of the AHRC theme ‘Translating Cultures’ and the cross-council programme ‘Connected Communities’.

Who is undertaking the project?

The Common Cause project is a partnership between the Universities of Bristol and Liverpool, the Centre for Research in Race and Rights at the University of Nottingham, the Runnymede Trust and Xtend. Read further details about the project team.

How can I get involved?

There are a number of ways you can do this:

  1. On this website you will find updates and information about the project, future events and activities as they get under way.
  2. Complete the survey that will run from January to map past and present research collaborations between universities and Black and minority ethnic communities in Arts and Humanities research in the UK. Collaborative projects highlighted through the survey will be included in an online resource of projects to create an archive and help others gain insights from the work undertaken.
  3. Share your stories of past and present collaborations, what has worked and what could be done differently by dropping us a line at common-cause-research@bristol.ac.uk.
  4. Participate in forthcoming workshops. If you work with Black and minority ethnic community groups or organisations, arts activities or activist networks and would be interested in exploring how to build collaborations with universities, we will be running a series of workshops (limited places available) so do sign up to our mailing list to receive further details.

What do you mean by ‘collaborations’, ‘Arts and Humanities’, ‘research’ and ‘communities’?

By collaboration – we mean formal and informal working relationships in which partners from universities and Black and minority ethnic communities work together to conduct research. Such research could relate to gaining insight into a particular topic, shared agendas, developing policies and practices or building capacity; it might also involve long term strategic partnerships between institutions. The Common Cause project is part of the Connected Communities programme, one of the most important aims of which is to support and promote the idea of the co-design and co-production of research and to support this through projects run in partnership with communities rather than about them.

By Arts and Humanities – we mean the diverse disciplines captured under this umbrella term from legal scholarship to urban design, from philosophy to community arts. What is of particular interest to this project is in understanding whether there are strong clusters of collaboration between universities and Black and ethnic minority communities in some areas of arts and humanities research compared to others. For example, whether some topics are being given more attention while others are not? Are some Black and minority ethnic communities better represented in collaborative research on some topics while others are overlooked? If so, what distortive effects or gaps might this leave?

By research – we mean the systematic investigation and study of a topic in order to advance knowledge. There are many approaches and methods employed to undertake research including action research and activities intended to promote institutional change as well as surveys, documentary arts based and ethnographic approaches. The Common Cause project does not intend to promote or exclude some of these over others. However, systematic investigation and study are key to collaborative research relevant to the Common Cause project.

By communities – we mean people who share some common aspects that may relate to beliefs, values, identities and many other features.  We acknowledge that community is a contentious word. The project acknowledges the fact that we all belong to communities – at home, in our neighbourhoods, at work, at school, through voluntary work, through online networks, and so on. Communities are understood as vital to our lives, identities and wellbeing, but their importance means we need to explore through projects of this sort their changing places in our lives as well as their histories and their futures.

This project seems like it is part of a bigger issue. How will this project reach out to other non-arts and humanities researchers and other Black and minority ethnic community organisations working in areas such as health care or environmental concerns?

This is a small-scale exploratory project that will aim to map the broad landscape of collaboration in the field of the Arts and Humanities in the first instance. Over time, the project team hopes to stimulate projects in related fields and it is intended that the findings from this study will lay useful foundations for exploring where differences exist with non-Arts and Humanities researchers and Black and minority ethnic communities  working in other fields such as health care, well-being or environmental concerns.

How will you decide which organisations you are going to work with?

The project is open to working with a wide range of organisations of various sizes, whether these are well-established or have emerged more recently. We are hoping to accommodate as many organisations as possible in the various phases of the project, but will seek to ensure geographical spread and a diverse range of activities. The project is designed to allow individuals and organisations from any sector to contribute their experiences. The interview and workshop phases will involve participants from as wide and diverse a range of organisations and experiences as possible.

Will you be limiting the number of groups you work with?

We are open to working with as wide a range of organisations as possible, and will only limit engagement if expressions of interest exceed our capacity. At this point, diversity of sectors, interests and experience will form the basis for decision-making about participation. However, our aim is to run activities for participants from across the UK and to be as open as possible to anyone interested in participating.

How are you planning to build on previous work in this area?

The first phase of the project will analyse current data and other information about previous work in this area, allowing our mapping of University-Black and minority ethnic community collaborations in the Arts and Humanities to build on existing knowledge. If there is work you believe we should be aware of, please email us at common-cause-research@bristol.ac.uk.

Is this project likely to increase the amount of resource available to Black and minority ethnic communities for research?

The Common Cause project will not itself increase the amount of resource available to Black and minority ethnic communities. However, in the longer term it seeks to encourage greater access to existing resources made available via the AHRC, Arts Council and other funding bodies by identifying practical actions that can be taken by funders, universities and community organisations to strengthen the effectiveness of university-Black and minority ethnic community collaborations and by building the capacity and awareness of these opportunities amongst relevant organisations and communities.

Where can I find out more?

If you would like further information about the project you can email us at common-cause-research@bristol.ac.uk.