How 'knowledge exchange' is working to build more Inclusive Cities

Published 31 October 2019 / By Jacqui Broadhead

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The integration and inclusion of newcomers has been a surprisingly low priority for UK local government in spite of both the high salience of migration in UK politics and research showing that most integration of newcomers happens at the local level. This is partially due to a lack of clarity as to where responsibility lies for inclusion as well as resource constraints. But it also reflects the lack of opportunities for learning between cities and with research on this issue.

 Inclusive Cities aims to tackle this issue through knowledge exchange - between researchers and policy makers, with international partners and through peer learning between UK cities.

A new framework to support local authorities

Six founder cities – Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow, London, Liverpool and Peterborough have worked closely with COMPAS researchers over two years to develop action plans for inclusion at the local level. They have worked with a taskforce of stakeholders in their city who play a dual role - advising the local authority on their plan, but also taking ownership in taking the plan forward.

The new framework is drawn from this process and aims to set out a roadmap for local authorities looking to create change in this area:

5 Core Principles in working to build inclusion at the local level

  1. Provide local leadership to create change
  2. Inclusion is a shared responsibility, delivered in partnership
  3. Work with newcomers and longer standing residents
  4. Use available data and evidence to set goals, monitor impact and update strategies
  5. Take action at the local level, provide advocacy at the national level, learn from best practice internationally.

 5 thematic areas

  1. Leading in the development of a shared local story of inclusion
  2. Supporting and driving inclusive economic growth
  3. Connecting communities
  4. Mainstreaming and building inclusive public services
  5. Encouraging civic participation and representation

 This Framework was launched at a roundtable of political leaders from the Inclusive Cities and other UK cities in Cardiff and sets the way for the next phase of the programme which will work with the founder cities, alongside six new cities including Brighton, Birmingham and Newport.

 The City Working Group Model for knowledge exchange

Universities and researchers are encouraged to seek research impact for their work, but this is often a linear process - researchers seek to disseminate their findings or translate them for policy audiences. This approach can work well, but all too often it results in a lack of dialogue.

The city working group model takes a co-productive approach, the researcher is embedded in a long-term initiative of peer learning and mutual exchange – both with research and policy making, but also facilitating space for exchange between cities.

There are risks. How can we avoid compromising academic independence ? How can evaluative judgements of policy interventions be made when the researcher is facilitating social change as well as studying it? These are important questions but, when trying to understand complex and knotty social problems, can researchers really be considered to be entirely out of the fray? Is it not better to acknowledge these inherent tensions and role duality and address them head on - noting that social sciences research co-produces social problems, as much as it does solutions.

Alongside these risks there are considerable advantages - long term engagement means that relationships can be built between practitioners and researchers to build understanding over the long term and avoiding research and policy working in isolation. Knowledge exchange can help to inform future research agendas, not to unduly guide them, but to open up new lines of enquiry. This can be particularly fruitful at the local level, where the resources and capacity are often limited and where the gap between policy making and impact on the ground can be smaller than from central government to the grassroots.

 Lessons and challenges from the programme

Findings from a survey of participants demonstrates that Inclusive Cities has acted as a catalyst for change - speeding up and reinforcing existing processes and providing practical and tangible ideas as well as new impetus to act. The programme increases political leadership to raise the profile of integration and welcoming across city council and elsewhere, with a wider and more diverse group of stakeholders. The support of an academic partner was also seen as valuable in providing an evidence base and providing accountability and structure.

However, work on inclusion still feels sidelined and there is more to do to mainstream the inclusion of newcomers into day to day work. Whilst partnership working was positive, it was sometimes hard to move beyond the council to a truly shared model, and some groups, in particular employers, remain under-engaged.

Finally, the city voice on inclusion at the national level remains weak - with cities underrepresented in conversations about migration and integration practice. Whilst universities can support and facilitate work on inclusion, ultimately it will be local leaders and their partners who will be key in implementing ideas and taking them to the next level.