Guest Post: Kate Raynor “On Collaborating on Collaborating”

On Collaborating on Collaborating
Kate Raynor

A few weeks ago I held in my delighted and relieved hands a new report called Engaging Research: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Collaborative Planning and Participatory Action Research. The report, published by the action research network Transforming Housing, features five short essays from researchers and practitioners specialising in housing, health, sustainability, government and planning. The report evolved from a Collaborative Planning Researcher Workshop hosted by Transforming Housing that all contributors attended. I recommend it as one of the best bite-sized, inter-disciplinary reports on collaborative action and research you’ll have the pleasure of reading in a long time. As the editor of the report I am, of course, completely without bias.

The report deals with questions about who to involve in collaborative processes, drawing on insightful contributions from Professor Carolyn Whitzman and Dr Melanie Lowe. Both authors highlight the benefits of collaboration, citing its capacity to support research-to-policy translation, influence change, help create actionable solutions to difficult problems and improve the policy relevance of research. Dr Kate Neely’s contribution canvasses processes of stakeholder engagement within research. She argues that one of the drivers of trust in research outputs is knowing and understanding the people and processes that are involved in research. Dr Andreanne Doyon introduces Transition Management to the repertoire of theoretical frameworks and collaborative practical processes available to those aiming to drive positive change. Finally, Mike Collins contemplates how to navigate the political, structural and resourcing barriers to collaboration ‘in the real world’ and presents some local government success stories. I really do recommend you read it.

Despite the glowing review I have just given it, I must admit I was dreading starting it and put it off for a number of weeks. I thought “what more can anyone really say about collaborative planning or participatory action research?” As an urban planner, my planning education and subsequent research has been suffused with references to collaborative planning. I was getting a bit bored.

However, as is often the case when people collaborate, the report is greater than the sum of its parts. What struck me within this report is the number of different disciplines discussing the importance of engaging with different knowledges, involving relevant stakeholders and working together to create and implement solutions but using different terms, priorities, processes and bodies of literature. And that is what has re-kindled my interest. I can see a role for Transition Management within planning. Similarly, insights from knowledge-transfer and policy-relevant research in health are no less applicable to housing, sustainability or government. This knowledge sharing enriches everyone and should be fostered despite the challenges of inter-disciplinary collaborations.

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Kate Raynor