Research Blog: Coordinating Creative Communities

Author: Samantha Peel
AHRC Creative Communities Programme Coordinator Samantha Peel looks back on the programme’s first year of activity and forward to our phase two plans.

My role as programme coordinator is to work alongside and in between the research team to facilitate the programme’s ever-expanding body of activities and engagement, but also maintain research management tasks like reporting, finance and compliance. This role allows me the exciting vantage point of seeing all sides and angles of the programme – to help with financial queries and budgeting one day, but to be helping with a communications strategy and editing media the next, safe in the knowledge that every day the week after will be completely different again. The programme started around a year ago and this first year of close team working has seen us launch our deep dive report ‘By All, For All: The Power of Partnership’ and the Community Innovation Practitioners pilot funding scheme.

With Creative Communities in particular, coordinating a programme is a really privileged position as I work in constant contact with our research community, stakeholders and cross-sector partners in a way that allows for a glimpse behind the curtain of the Creative Industries, cultural policy sectors and community-facing research in this unprecedented post-pandemic moment. Everyone expects to learn new things in a new job, but to be even just brushing alongside the creative minds we’re working with means I have been absorbing innovative ideas and building skills almost by osmosis.

A programme coordinator role also serves as an opportunity to carve out an exciting personalised niche in the research landscape – especially now, at a time when we’re seeing ‘non-academic jobs in universities’ like knowledge exchange, impact, research communications and other ‘alt-ac’ or ‘academic adjacent’ roles diversifying and having a higher profile. For an excellent exploration of the broad range of non-academic roles involved in R&D – including the value they deliver and the very common negative misconceptions that blight them – I would recommend listening to Sarah McLusky’s podcast series ‘Research Adjacent’.

Northumbria University has been an ideal home for the Creative Communities programme and team. I have been extremely fortunate over the last few years to have worked in similar posts at CRASSH and gloknos in Cambridge and at the WHO Centre for Global Health Histories in York, with projects where external and non-academic engagement has always been key. It is so important to foster a commitment to bringing academic research and results outside of universities and into public conversations, whether through Open Access public-minded book projects, policy workshops that cross disciplines and industries, or public events and exhibitions. Northumbria’s commitment to public-facing research and meaningful cultural partnership work is unparalleled on a local level, but years of outreach and engagement work has recently seen even grander acknowledgement of the national and international scale of the university’s impact. Times Higher Education University of the Year might be only a moment in our long institutional history, but it will live forever in my commemorative lanyard.

The longstanding and sector-leading partnership work that Northumbria University is committed to is a major part of the programme’s success. Another element is the ongoing commitment from the AHRC – in particular our programme board has been open, generous with their time and expertise, and gracious in receiving the recommendations generated by the programme’s deep dive report into ten years of AHRC funding activity. The very conscious and intentional work being done by the AHRC and UKRI with the Creative Communities team to avoid gatekeeping or limiting access to data and opportunities is heartening to see, and it will lead to major strategic and organisational changes in coming months and years.

Looking forward to our second year of activity I am so excited to see how the Community Innovation Practitioners pilot will provide new detailed case study-style learning, while our phase two partner organisation survey will capture an unprecedented breadth of data about research partners over ten years of AHRC-funded work and allow for the opportunity to continue some of the mapping and data analysis done for the phase one report. This will bring us into new and continued contact with policymakers and political teams through the planned four nations policy lab events, but also with public audiences and cross-sector networks through CIPs events and a new podcast series. More information about Creative Communities future research is available across the website.

No matter how sentimental it might sound, I’m most looking forward to continuing to work with the Creative Communities team and the many friends of the programme we’ve found over the last year. Creative Communities feels uniquely placed to lead to real and measurable change. I hope that you join us at an event or reach out to chat with us as we move into phase two.


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