Collaboration is key: insight into civic partnerships in Leeds

A new report, ‘Unlocking the potential of civic collaboration’, offers fresh insight into collaborative working between the University of Leeds and Leeds City Council. Professor Adam Crawford and Professor Adrian Favell, of Leeds Social Sciences Institute, discuss why collaboration is becoming more important and its role in the West Yorkshire Devolution Deal. 

As Leeds responds to the pandemic, prepares for Brexit and works with colleagues across West Yorkshire to maximise the benefits of devolution, collaboration and knowledge exchange between researchers and local policy-makers and practitioners is vital. A new report from Leeds Social Sciences Institute (LSSI) has provided a detailed review of research-policy collaboration in the city for the first time. It affords an analysis of the extent of such partnerships and factors that encourage or inhibit successful collaborative projects. While the report focuses on bi-lateral relationships between researchers at the University of Leeds and Council officers, we believe it offers insights into collaboration that are of interest in development of research collaboration partnerships regionally.   

It highlights productive research collaborations between the two organisations in responding to economic, social and environmental challenges over many years. The report reveals strong inter-personal relationships and includes case studies of successful projects spanning a vast array of social, environmental and scientific topics. It outlines findings from an online survey and interviews with staff from the University and the Council on the benefits, enablers and barriers affecting research collaboration. As a result of findings from the Review, a series of recommendations have been proposed to establish a more strategic approach to research-policy partnerships, which are informed by principles that aim to enhance and accelerate collaboration in future. These recommendations have now been accepted by both institutions and a joint Reference Group has been established to oversee the implementation of an agreed Action Plan.  

The Review shows the scale of research collaboration between University and Council, with 118 projects spanning all faculties and directorates since 2015, of which 45 are currently live. It also shows that these projects are dependent upon, and contribute to, much broader relationships with businesses, voluntary and public sector partners and other universities within the city and across the region.   

The value of regional collaborative partnerships is more apparent than ever in developing a regional response to the global pandemic, Brexit and preparing for devolution in West Yorkshire. The Place-Based Economic Recovery Network (PERN), a multi-University network of experts, is focusing on economic recovery to support WYCA and Leeds City Region Local Enterprise Partnership and other public bodies in planning COVID-19 recovery efforts. Sub-regional interaction through WYCA and Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership has intensified in preparation for devolved powers and budgets under the Cities and Local Government Devolution Act 2016. Introducing a directly elected mayor for West Yorkshire will increase opportunity for decision-making on issues including housing and transport, requiring robust evidence to inform policy development. Devolution will provide more flexibility on issues, such as transport and housing, and will unlock a £1.8bn investment with other councils in West Yorkshire, which necessitates collective and evidence-informed decision-making. The Review is a timely new step for future consideration of multi-stakeholder research partnerships. 

Researchers who took part in the survey and interviews for the Review viewed working with the council as a direct pathway to impact and funding for research is set to become more place-based. The Government’s UK Research and Development Roadmap, published earlier this year, recognises the role of a place-based approach to research and development in ‘levelling up’ regional inequalities. This specifically highlights the requirement to foster ‘greater collaborations and networks between funders, researchers, practitioners and civic leaders to embed a system to deliver a stronger local economic benefit and improved quality of life outcomes’.   

Prior to the Review, collaborations had been largely on an ad hoc basis, however steps are now being taken to actively encourage effective partnerships. Twelve recommendations were proposed for accelerating research-policy engagement. These include named collaboration champions, co-produced priorities for place-based research, a ‘connected Leeds’ vision for data sharing and building research activities into Council procurement. These recommendations are considered an initial step in pursuing much wider civic aspirations and regional relationships. 

Collaboration is expected to continue play an increasingly significant role throughout the Leeds City Region and beyond. Researchers in the Social Sciences are also developing collaborative relations with other local authorities in West Yorkshire, as well as across the North of England more broadly. The Review constitutes a new phase in the development of wider strategies to enhance and harness public and third sector engagement across the city-region. The recommendations an aligned Action Plan offer a useful platform from which to build wider collaborative research partnerships across the region in the future.   

Professor Adam Crawford is Director of Leeds Social Sciences Institute (LSSI) and Professor Adrian Favell is Chair in Sociology and Social Theory at the University of Leeds and Deputy Director of LSSI. 

To learn more about the Review contact: lSSI@leeds.ac.uk 

You can read the full Review here.

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