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Research collaboration and public engagement

The School of Geography engages with a wide range of research users, policy makers and the public to ensure that our research has major impact – in scope and significance – from the local (often in east London) to the international. Our approach involves (i) establishing and sustaining collaborative frameworks for research; (ii) applying research in practice through committee membership and engagement with policy makers and practitioners; and (iii) broadening the audiences that engage with our research. This approach is underpinned by our impact strategy and has been supported by funding from Queen Mary’s Centre for Public Engagement, Queen Mary Innovation and Enterprise and AHRC Creativeworks London.

Impact strategy:

  1. To embed impact in the research process through staff training, knowledge sharing through impact seminars and internal peer review of grant applications
  2. To enable impact via the School’s targeted Research Theme Funding
  3. To develop the role of (a) the Research and Teaching Officer to generate and archive information on and evidence of impact and (b) the Marketing and Communications Officer to target press releases and publicise research via the website and social media
  4. To promote and support applications for internal and external Knowledge Exchange funds
  5. To consolidate existing research partnerships with external organisations and to use Research Theme Funds and the School’s expertise to generate new partnerships
  6. To identify and support key areas for current and future impact across all research themes.

Collaborative frameworks for research
The School’s research is often undertaken in close collaboration with users with whom we establish meaningful, mutually beneficial and sustained research partnerships. Research funding has been awarded to partnerships with research users, including with the Museum of London Archaeology Service (AHRC), the Geffrye Museum via Centre for Studies of Home (AHRC and Leverhulme Trust), and PhD studentships via ESRC/NERC CASE and AHRC CDAs since 2005 with the Geffrye Museum (5), V&A Museum of Childhood (3), National Maritime Museum (2), Hunterian Museum, Kids Company, British Museum, Natural History Museum, Ragged School Museum, Arcadis UK, Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science, Runnymede Trust, and Sandwell and Barking & Dagenham Primary Care Trusts. The SMART PhD programme and MSc Integrated Management of Freshwater Environments enhances training and develops collaborative applied research projects with the agencies on the advisory board (including Atkins, Environment Agency, Natural England and Wessex Water).

Our collaborative research with museums has been showcased in a short film made with Mile End Films and funded by the School of Geography and Queen Mary’s Centre for Public Engagement:

Applying research in practice
The School pursues a range of opportunities to contribute to public, private and voluntary sector initiatives, including membership of key advisory committees, working groups and other public bodies. Examples include Jane Wills’ long-term work with London Citizens; Miles Ogborn’s work on the Research and Collections Committee of the National Maritime Museum; Geraldene Wharton’s role as Chair of the River Restoration Centre’s Board of Directors; Cathy McIlwaine’s role as trustee of Children of the Andes; Simon Carr’s membership of the Forest Fawr management group and strategic steering group for the GeoPark, Brecon Beacons National Park; Angela Gurnell’s leadership of the hydromorphology assessment work package in the FP7 project REFORM; and Alison Blunt’s role as trustee and Council member of the Royal Geographical Society (with Institute of British Geographers).

Reaching a broader audience
Queen Mary’s geographers operate across the range of popular media in order to broaden the audience for research. Highlights include Simon Reid-Henry’s book Fidel and Che (Hodder and Stoughton, 2009), Alastair Owens’ Living in Victorian London film for BBC London; Angela Gurnell on ‘Nature’ and ‘Saving Species’ on BBC Radio 4; Jane Wills on ‘The Moral Maze’ and ‘Whatever happened to community?’ on BBC Radio 4; and David Horne in Geology Today, Astronomy Now and BBC Wildlife Magazine. Feedback to research collaborators and users, including policymakers, has been via workshops and public lectures on: work-life balance in the new economy to employee networks, unions and IT employers in the UK and Ireland; economic restructuring and livelihood protection to governmental and civil society organisations in Slovakia and Poland (Adrian Smith); and estimates of diabetes prevalence for the US Centre for Disease Control (Peter Congdon). On-going work with museums and galleries translates research into displays for a broad audience, including exhibitions on geographies of home at the Geffrye Musuem (from AHRC, ESRC and Leverhulme Trust funded projects) and the display on pleasure gardens at the Museum of London directly informed by Miles Ogborn’s research on Vauxhall Gardens.

Examples of our research collaboration and public engagement:

  • Making a case for the living wage
  • Latin London: improving the visibility of Latin Americans in the UK
  • Assessment, restoration and management of urban rivers
  • Regulating the forensic use of bioinformation

Making a case for the living wage
Since 2001, research by Jane Wills has exposed the problem of low pay and in-work poverty in London, explored the potential solution offered by a living wage, and underpinned a successful campaign by London Citizens – an alliance of community organisations – for a living wage in the capital. As a result of the campaign, there are now 400 accredited employers who pay a living wage and up to 45,000 workers across the UK who have benefitted. In 2008, persuaded by Wills’ research, Queen Mary became the first university in the UK to adopt the living wage. Now, almost all higher education institutions in London do the same. Wills has presented her research at the House of Commons (2009, 2012), the Marmot Enquiry (2009), and has spoken alongside Ed Miliband to support the living wage during his leadership election campaign (2010). The Labour Party supports the living wage as its policy response to in-work poverty and it will feature in the Party Manifesto ahead of the next general election. The research has focused mainly on London, yet the findings have relevance nationally and internationally, informing campaigns in Birmingham, Brighton, Glasgow, Nottingham, Wales, Canada and New Zealand.

For more information, see Jane Wills’ living wage webpage.

Latin London: improving the visibility of Latin Americans in the UK
Cathy McIlwaine’s research has raised the profile of Latin Americans in Lonodn and placed the community more centrally in public debates and policy frameworks. McIlwaine provided the first official estimate of the size of the Latin American population in London in 2011, and this led Southwark local authority to formally recognise Latin / South Americans as a distinct group in their ethnic monitoring, in order to improve their access to health and welfare services. Her work has informed the work of charities, NGOs and lobbyists, leading to the creation of the Coalition of Latin Americans in the UK and the expansion of services at the Latin American Women’s Rights Service. It has also been used by Latin American consulates to provide evidence about their communities in London, and has improved public awareness of the Latin American community in the capital, including providing a key source and inspiration for the play Juana in a Million by Vicky Araico Casas, performed to over 7000 people in the UK and Mexico.

For more information, see Cathy McIlwaine’s Latin Americans in London webpage.

Assessment, restoration and management of urban rivers
Angela Gurnell’s research on the geomorphology, hydrology and plant ecology of urban water courses has led to the development of important new tools for the biophysical assessment and improved management of urban rivers. Known as the Urban River Survey (URS), these tools are accessed by the Environment Agency and River Trusts across London, and their application is supported with workshops and guidance provided by Gurnell and her team. The URS has been used to deliver morphological quality indicators for rivers across London; to appraise river restoration schemes; to develop catchment management plans; and to assess long-term changes in rivers. It is currently being developed to quantify and set targets for river improvement schemes in relation to their impact on river ecosystem services. Gurnell’s work has made a distinct contribution to urban river improvements in Britain and Europe, particularly through her leadership in developing a European framework for assessing hydromorphology.

The Urban River Survey has its own website to which data can be submitted and from which it can be interrogated. 

Regulating the forensic use of bioinformation
Bronwyn Parry’s research while she worked in the School of Geography at Queen Mary (2004-12) into the ethical, legal and social implications of the storage and use of biological materials has had a direct impact on the UK government’s storage and use of DNA material for forensic investigation. Parry’s published research on the political-economic and cultural geographies of bioinformation led to her invitation in 2007 to become a member of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics. The Council’s subsequent report on The Forensic Use of Bioinformation (2007), on which Parry was a lead author, directly influenced the EU Court of Human Rights’ (2008) S and Marper judgement and the subsequent UK Crime and Security Act 2010 which significantly restricted the use by the police of the UK National DNA Database in criminal investigations.

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