Last month, I had the brilliant opportunity to accompany colleagues from the University of Glasgow’s (UofG) External Relations team to the CIVIS European Universities Alliance Global CIVIS Days hosted by the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens.
As part of this annual event of networking, learning, and collaborating, we shared the background and development of our new Small Grants Fund in collaboration with the Glasgow Centre for Population Health (GCPH) who have been developing and running a small grants programme since 2020.
Our new fund to support local, creative sustainability projects will mark the official launch of our activity under the CIVIS Open Labs initiative in Glasgow. The Open Labs “support the development of universities that are participatory, inclusive, and open”. This values-based approach to engagement inherent to CIVIS, is common among a range of UofG and external partners who have come together to launch this new fund – the Mazumdar-Shaw Advanced Research Centre (ARC), #UofGEngage Forum and GCPH.
Each partner brings a different perspective and valuable set of experiences to our Open Lab. Each partner also shares a central goal to better understand how to support community-led activity and priority setting (in research for example). We hope to learn from our communities’ skills and expertise and better understand the necessary processes involved in running a community fund to support this activity.
As part of the Global CIVIS Days Open Session of Open Labs Coordinators and Civic Engagement Task Force, we had the chance to hear about each of the other nine university Open Labs. We also had the opportunity to present UofG’s diverse and wide-ranging civic engagement activity, the background of our small grants, development and our learning so far. We exemplified the community-led, coproduction ethos of the work by screening a film co-produced by young people at Miltonbank Primary School, who received GCPH Small Grants Round One funding. This emotive short film was made in collaboration with a local artist and documents young people’s thoughts, feelings, hopes and fears in relation to the climate emergency. The film can be viewed on the GCPH website along with seven other creative pieces by awardees.
It was invaluable to hear about the activity and learning being generated across Europe through the CIVIS Open Labs and to gain an insight into the processes involved. It was also interesting to see common themes emerging across a range of partner initiatives. For example, a number focused on refugee and asylum support, eco-friendly transportation, children and young people and the elderly.
The Open Labs meeting provided a fantastic space to learn about what the different institutions are doing in terms of civic engagement and how they are finding ways to bridge the gap between communities and researchers through the Open Labs in order to address key societal challengesRuth Begley, Internationalisation Officer, UofG
Colleagues from other CIVIS member universities expressed their interest in the community-led nature of our initiative, conveying that it was unique amongst the CIVIS Alliance. We discussed the potential for collaboration across themes and for fostering opportunities to bring together organisations and individuals involved as participants and collaborators in the Open Labs (such as our fund awardees) to share learning and experiences.
As part of the Open Session, we also visited a local organisation called the Melissa Network. Melissa is a network for migrant and refugee women in Greece promoting empowerment, communication and active citizenship. The co-produced, collaborative, holistic, and trauma-informed nature of this project was highlighted to us by the founder, an activist and anthropologists, who stressed that this way of working is unique in relation to projects working with refugees, and that there are very few projects of its kind in Europe.
Visiting the Melissa Network highlighted a commitment amongst CIVIS partners to learn alongside community-led initiatives and to support their work. Through our new Small Grants Fund, we hope to contribute to this learning and build stronger relationships with local groups and organisations, which could enable more equitable future university-community collaborations in the longer-term.
This speaks to the Open Labs’ objective of finding ways to support communities and researchers to work together and provides a clear example of how these initiatives do not always have to be initiated by academic researchers but can also be led by the communities themselvesRuth Begley, Internationalisation Officer, UofG