Learning as we go…

Learning and development for researchers

By Kate Stokes and Nicki Boothman, Corporate Research and Consultation Officers at Kirklees Council

What makes a good researcher in a changing public sector world?

We don’t have all the answers and we’d love to hear your ideas! – But we do think continuing to make time for new skills and experiences is a pretty good starting point as there’s a growing need to turn our hand to doing things differently – to reach people in new ways and engage them in the changes we need to make.

During Local Area Research Fortnight we’ve topped off a busy period of professional development by attending a fantastic course yesterday hosted by the SRA on Advanced Evaluation: Options and Choices in Impact Evaluation… a day very well spent and we met a lovely bunch of people and shared experiences and future challenges.

At Kirklees Council we’ve been busy skilling up to try and future-proof our skills set as researchers – strengthening our offer to the organisation and partners and improving how we can work with our communities. We wanted to make sure we can continue to offer quality approaches as well as new solutions to delivering research with and for local people.

We’ve got creative seeking out a mixture of learning opportunities including free online courses (e.g. Human Centred Design), to sourcing some funding for enhancing core research skills across the team (e.g. ethnographic research, participative action research, behavioural insights) and accessing internally provided courses (e.g. coaching, management and how to deliver effective training sessions) plus peer-peer learning exchange.

We’ve collectively invested a lot into making sure we can continue to put people at the heart of what we do and enhance our skills in researching for the real world in an applied way. Working with transformation colleagues we’re aiming to develop and prototype as we go along – immersing ourselves in real world challenges and identifying solutions that will really work, with lots of action learning along the way!

As people will increasingly need to do more for themselves and each other we will need to get better at understanding their lives and motivations – and at helping to make communities more resilient. Getting out there and studying what matters to people and what can make their lives better will be quite a change from traditional approaches which can sometimes feel more distant from our target audiences.

And as researchers in a difficult local government environment we need to make sure we can continue to be the best that we can be. Able to apply our skills-set in a more multidisciplinary way and to carry on investing in keeping this fresh – so that our offer is fit for purpose as the world continues to change around us. With fewer resources and increasing demand, professional development can often feel like a ‘nice to have’ – but we believe it’s a ‘must have’. So let’s get creative about sharing opportunities and finding ways to fit things into busy working weeks.

We’ve a long way to go on this journey and have started fairly small – we’re continuously seeking out new opportunities to apply our learning, whether as a full approach or individual tools and techniques. It’s something we’re passionate about and we’d would love to hear from others who have experience or are interested in knowing more. Please get in touch!

(Image credit: Enokson via www.flickr.com)

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