Working with the community, for the community

Published: 10 February 2022

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash
Centric’s model for change. 

Social Finance has recently partnered with the community research organisation Centric, merging our skills across community research insights and financial rigour to drive better experiences and outcomes for people. This is a guest blog by Shaun Danquah, founder and Director of Innovation at Centric.

Centric Community Research is unique in that our framework involves upskilling people from local communities to engage in research in their own communities. This is contrary to approaches where researchers come to extract data and then depart, with minimal engagement with those communities directly impacted by the research in question. Such parachute models of research are what members of the Centric team have identified over the last 15 years in south London.

Our approach emphasises including groups and sections of the communities who do not usually come forward in such processes, and tapping into their unheard voices and perspectives. Therefore, Centric upholds an equitable research ethos that fosters a collaborative co-learning environment. Centric also engages in continuous reflective practice based on our own challenges which has encouraged us to adapt our approach as necessary and take on board new learning. This has been important as a team that sits between both communities and institutions.

Over the last 18 months Centric has also conducted:

  • Research into childhood obesity in Southwark alongside GEHL.
  • Covid-19 lived experience research
  • Medical scepticism research
  • Feedback sessions with health and care students from minoritised backgrounds at South Bank University
  • The vision for future cities with the London School of Economics
  • Covid-19 insights with Southwark Council and facilitated focus groups for the South-East London Clinical Commissioning Group.

We are currently working alongside professors from Kings College London to explore health activism in Brixton which involves an exploration into medical pluralism, self-care, and ethnomedicine.

Centric has developed a rigorous, robust and logical continuum model for research developed alongside researchers from the community: developed by the community for the community.’ We have been able to extrapolate insights from data, which without the analysis from community researchers, would not be immediately interpreted or identified. Insights that would not necessarily be comfortable for institutional researchers.

How does the community benefit from this route?

With the breadth of changes taking place in the economy, increasing turbulence in the housing sector, in addition to the public health crisis we are facing worldwide due to Covid-19, people’s lives have changed irreversibly. It is more important now than ever before to be able to engage with the communities that bear the brunt of these issues. Providing a platform for their voices to be heard, and involved in the process of change, here comes Centric.

Raquel is a Community Researcher at Centric. Her role is specifically focused on engaging with people in the local community to capture those lost and forgotten voices. This approach opens up a new way of doing research which suits the community as well as building a bridge to connect them to organisations.

I feel as though being a community researcher allows us to hear about things that are similar to what support workers hear from their service users. The emotions people are so rarely able to express openly, such as feelings of anxiety, stress, lack of trust, and scepticism in a post-pandemic England.

Although it can be challenging to listen to these voices talk about such negative experiences, I am happy I have been able to provide a platform to facilitate the voices of my community and give them an opportunity to be heard. Community researchers do more than just talk to people. We provide a safe space for them to be open, honest, and transparent about their lived experience. We facilitate some very sensitive conversions, and as you can imagine it can be hard to deal with. Centric has kept this in mind and cares for not only the mental health and wellbeing of research participants but also the community researcher team. This is done in a number of ways, such as reflective practice sessions, mechanisms of support such as mentoring, and the community researcher wellbeing fund, which provides funding for you to care for your own wellbeing in whichever way you see fit. The Centric team cares for one another, just as a family would care for their own.’

As someone with a disability, there are not many work opportunities available to me. Many employment opportunities are not accessible, or inclusive, and lack the flexibility to make reasonable adjustments for someone like me. Centric alternatively, has provided a flexible, inclusive, and remote employment opportunity, which works to support my weaknesses while empowering me to build on my strengths. I feel like my experience is proof that people’s disabilities are more valuable in workplaces than employers assume. My community thinks in a different way, as our lives have been vastly different from most. This allows us to navigate the world in a way that abled people can’t.

The experience of being a community researcher thus far has already improved my understanding of issues my community face, boosted my self-confidence, expanded my professional skillset, and most importantly helped me to grow as a human being. I feel more independent and it has opened my mind to the wider issues that we simply don’t hear about.

I can honestly say that our approach to community research should be used across the sector by more research organisations as it opens doors not just for one set of individuals but for whole communities. I think the projects we do help bring us closer together as an organisation and I couldn’t be happier with a team as amazing and dedicated as mine.’

A new partnership for better outcomes

The social sector is looking for change. We recognised a need to bring our expertise to the forefront to drive better outcomes for people, but partner with an organisation bringing a different skillset and who was working towards the same goal – tangible, impactful change in urban societies. This is how we partnered with Social Finance. By working together in an alliance to make social change within our communities, we are able to speak the right language, to the right people and engage in a more incisive and diverse manner within our work.

Working with Social Finance has been superb, and I have found that it has been an exquisite merger between community research insights and corporate financial rigour. In an ever-changing landscape, one must be multifaceted, which in 2022 is even more pertinent. The experience exemplifies horizontal diversification.

The days of being fully immersed in one field has gone, and it is a must to work with those who possess skills in another. Hence, we complement each other in different ways, in doing so resulting in a distinct competitive advantage for both entities. We are just at the beginning of this partnership journey, but we hope by working together our work will become more impactful in addressing social issues and inequalities. We have lots to learn, but we are progressing conversations in local government for ethnic minority groups and data inequalities and we look forward to seeing where these conversations and this partnership takes us.

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