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R3. Set your clocks: clarify likely timescales in advance

Time is a scarce resource. A project rests on strict deadlines and is often based on long-term or mid-term perspectives. Depending on the expected results, time might be seen very differently from the standpoint of either research or societal needs. Research projects usually need time to deliver concrete outcomes. CSOs expecting short term results like quality of life improvements or new tools might be disappointed they haven't arrived sooner.

Additionally, partners might not stand on equal footing with regard to time allocation and time availability. Partners entering into a new type of CSO-research collaboration should not only individually evaluate how much time they will need to handle a task, but also discuss this with the other partners in order to avoid over- or under-estimations. Otherwise such issues might endanger the global project development. Timescales, time commitment and project progress in relation to both of these are thus all necessary points of regular discussion throughout the duration of the project.

Guiding Questions

When starting a new research project researchers should consider questions such as:
  • What timescales, deadlines and milestones are relevant across this project?  Include likely durations for all elements, for example planning and preparation; implementation and data collection; data analysis and synthesis; report preparation; and dissemination.
  • Have I discussed these timescales in depth with my partners; are they sufficiently clear?  How can I better present or explain these timescales to avoid misunderstandings?
  • Am I sufficiently familiar with the timescales involved in my partners' activities?  Do I know where the likely 'pinch' points will be, and how they interlink with my own responsibilities?
  • Are there any other stakeholders that need to be aware of the relevant timescales involved in my research?  For example citizens or policymakers?  Should we incorporate a timeline of the research process into all of our standard materials about the project?

Example: a citizen observatory of biodiversity

A CSO created a local biodiversity observatory in a natural habitat near an area of high industrial activity. The local inhabitants feared the pollution of air and land. The observatory was able to organise several collaborations between researchers and local inhabitants. For example they monitored different plants in the surrounding area. The citizens were trained to follow specific observation protocols, the results from which were sent on to the researcher. He or she then analysed the results. Whilst the local citizens were very keen to get involved and even contribute directly to the research, they had not anticipated the long time period between data collection and the point when the results could be explained and disseminated to the citizens.  This left many of them feeling very disappointed.

'Scientific analysis takes time. During the training nobody thought of telling them they would have to wait before knowing the results.  And at first we did not think either to send them newsletters. Now we do it differently'.