– Andrew Power (Human Geographer at University of Southampton and co-founder of SPIRIT)
In March 2015, my colleague Melanie Nind (Professor, Southampton School of Education) and I met to discuss an idea that had been on both of our minds for some time. This idea stemmed from a longstanding problem that we shared, of including disabled people (who were often marginalised and unsalaried) and their representative organisations in academic research in a sustained way. This problem was particularly felt outside the life course of academic research projects due to the discrete nature of project funding.
Inclusive research requires collaboration between academics and people outside the academy who are usually objects of research, and who often have had little say in the research design process or dissemination of findings in studies about them. For more information on inclusive research, see Mel and Hilra Vinha’s 2012 report [opens as pdf]
We both wanted to create a space for disabled people and their representative groups to be more centrally involved in disability research at Southampton. We also wanted to build these relationships that could last both outside and during the lifecourse of research projects.
We submitted a proposal to the ESRC Impact Acceleration Account to make this happen and our proposal was successful.
Our aim is to develop a sustainable shared platform between researchers and disabled people (and related community groups) for the co-production of inclusive research. The initial focus will be on people with learning disabilities – a group that we have placed at the heart of our research.
In short, the platform will be an organisational space comprised of: (i) a coalition of inclusive researchers, disabled people and related community groups; (ii) a workshop space to share ideas and shape ongoing and future research and dissemination activities and; (iii) a co-produced programme of activities.
The programme of activities will include a SPIRIT Conference at University of Southampton and a series of three knowledge exchange seminars each focusing on different aspects of research and findings. We will host speakers from within the academy and self-advocate researchers outside the academy doing complementary inclusive research. The aim of the programme is two-fold: first, to target and build relationships with non-academic groups and individuals who use research or are implicated in research (in particular service providers, local government, national disability groups) and second, to further develop linkages with other complementary disability research centres across the UK.
From the outset, SPIRIT will have two community partners, Choices Advocacy, a Southampton-based advocacy organization for disabled people (that also supports self-advocacy networks) and People First Dorset, a branch of the national self-advocacy organization. In time, we hope to build the network of advocacy bodies and other organizations which have long term relationships with disabled people and seek to speak up/facilitate for them. They will be independent of service providers and families.
We shall also seek to expand the platform to incorporate other researchers at Southampton with cognate research areas in order to yield further cross-disciplinary, innovative work, and to extend the legacies of future research. The academic partners will also seek to learn from community partners and build effective working relationships.
Personally I feel really chuffed that the ESRC IAA committee saw the potential in this and I’m really looking forward to working in a very different way with disabled people in my research and in collaborating in all these activities with our partners.
Watch this space!