F4. Facilitate building connections between CSOs and researchers
Funders can be in a good position to support the relationship building that is an important foundation of CSO engagement. The building of relationships needs time. Once relationships exist and the different partners develop a better understanding of each other, further collaboration is more likely to be successful.There are many mechanisms that could be used to support such relationship building. This could be done through:
Hosting events specifically aimed at the needs of CSOs and aiming to provide possibilities for CSOs and researchers to get to know each other.
Implementing staged funding mechanisms that can be used initially to identify and build promising collaborations, which are then developed further in subsequent stages.
Encouraging more pilot projects. Such 'test' activities are by their very nature considered to be new and innovative, and as a result, they instigate a willingness to take more risks. The success of such projects would be potentially very large, whereas their experimental nature means that failure would have less negative connotations than usual. Consequently, the involvement of civil society in such projects is thus viewed as lower risk, thereby becoming more likely.
Funders who are considering encouraging the involvement of CSOs in research projects should consider:
Is it necessary to actively encourage participation by groups outside the community of 'usual' EU funding applicants, for example to attract smaller civil society groups or those with specialist interests?
Do the necessary collaborations already exist or does time need to be allowed for this as part of the research?
How 'established' does the relationship between the CSO and research partners need to be at application stage? Would an initial pilot programme be best to allow the establishment of relationships and testing of ideas prior to the full call? Or are there other appropriate mechanisms for connecting relevant groups?
Example: Familiarity and experience breeds conducive collaboration between CSOs and Researchers
The partners involved in one of the projects, including the two CSOs, were familiar with and had prior knowledge of each other. The familiarity stemmed from interactions at joint events such as conferences, which meant that the partners already knew and respected each others' work, and had a clear preference of working together. In addition, one of the CSOs had previously collaborated with some of the partners involved in the project.
The familiarity and experience of the CSOs and other partners in the project meant that from the start it was acknowledged that the CSOs had a crucial role to play within the project, as explained by the Coordinator in the extract below. That role included proposal writing, agenda setting within the research process through to data collection.
Though useful from the perspective of emphasising the value of civil society in research, merely requiring the inclusion of CSOs within certain funding calls is not enough to ensure a successful collaboration. Through encouraging and actively stimulating the initial development of such collaborations, and then incorporating a consideration of the strength of the partnerships into the evaluation processes of subsequent (larger) calls, funders could play a crucial role in ensuring the successful integration of civil society in research.
'I think they [CSOs] were very important and the project could not have been possible without them. They helped in the writing of the proposal first of all, identifying precisely who would be our target users and also well from the very beginning, also in the proposal helping to define a methodology. To work and to define the work plan. We defined a work plan with three iterations. Iterations that involve in each of the iterations a specifications, well requirements, well research, testing and validation and feedback to start…to specifications again. So we did this iterative process, these three iterations. And this methodology was devised with them from the very proposal; and during the project when we started the first thing we did was meet with them, do some focus groups both with Clinicians and also with careers and patients and end users. They helped us define the road map of the project, the specifications of the three incremental prototypes that we were going to develop. And there were continuous interactions with them in the development of those prototypes and testing of those prototypes and getting feedback from the tests to feedback the research and development process. So they were key in the whole project'. (Researcher)