History, vision, values

We launched a pilot of the Community Research Initiative for Students, or CRIS for short, in November 2018 with funding from the UCL Office for the Vice Provost (Education & Student Experience). Our mission? To see what we could do to improve the master’s student experience around the dissertation. We planned to do this by creating a way for students to connect with the richly diverse and knowledgeable voluntary & community sector to listen to what new knowledge would be most useful and design a mutually beneficial dissertation project to create this.

Create positive social change

At CRIS we believe, like many others, that a university should contribute to positive social change through knowledge creation and dissemination. Historically, people think of quality research in a quite narrow way – getting degrees and using certain methods and assessment techniques. This creates an exclusive and exclusionary ‘club’. Even worse, we think of quality research from a very western and European perspective.

We like to think more broadly and inclusively at CRIS because knowledge created in universities is only part of the story. Sure, we need this systematic, rigorous, and methodological knowledge system. But we also need creative, grounded, experiential knowledge creation. This type of knowledge is actually squeezed out by traditional research methods and not considered ‘quality’. This is because the way we measure research success is narrow and mostly benefits academia and its accepted system of knowledge creation. There is also a much deeper and darker side to academic knowledge. University privilege lacks diversity compared to its surrounding communities and citizens – its neighbours. Just taking ethnicity as one example, less than 5% of UCL’s student population identifies as Black while 19% of Camden citizens, where UCL is based, identify this way. The picture is worse when we consider UCL teaching staff. It is therefore not an exaggeration to say that the knowledge created within our universities is from a narrow viewpoint; we are creating a very particular knowledge often at the exclusion of other types.

Never The Twain Shall Meet?

The problem is opportunity! There are significant and very real pressures within the higher education sector which prevents widespread collaborative external working. Likewise, there are very real pressures within the voluntary & community sector that makes working with a behemoth university like UCL almost impossible. It is well documented and fairly obvious that these sectors operate in very different ways, have very different markers of success, use a different language and work to different timescales.

But there is not a lack of will. There are already great examples of cross-sector collaboration and partnership at UCL and many other universities. To make this great work spread and seed, we need people in support roles, dedicated to spending time making space and creating times to come together.

What makes us tick?

We hold three ideas very close to our hearts at CRIS: first, the idea that there are valid perspectives and ways of knowing besides academic knowledge; second, the idea that the highest quality knowledge and information is multi-perspective; and third, the idea that new knowledge should lead to positive social change.

  • On the first point, we emphasise power sharing and knowledge democracy – we are not UCL saviours of our lesser local communities and citizens. We acknowledge gaps in our own knowledge and seek to find out more from voluntary sector experts.
  • On the second point, we designed our service to act as a bridge; a bridge into the university of grounded, experiential, lived experience from citizens and citizen groups while at the same time, a bridge out of the university of academic perspectives and skills.
  • On the third point, we promote useful and useable research products.

What do we want to achieve?

Our vision, through CRIS, is to create a great student experience where the value of voluntary sector and citizen expertise and knowledge is recognised, and students can develop a meaningful research project that could generate positive social change.

What are our values?

We approach everything we do as honestly and transparently as possible. We are collaborative and participative. We are inclusive. We connect and make connections. We are friendly. We start conversations. We listen. We think that creating new knowledge should be for everyone, by everyone.

We are informed and inspired by new power values, as described in Jonathan Grant’s recent text, The New Power University.

Past years evaluation