Finding out about Girl Kind

Dr Sarah Winkler-Reid’s Girl-Kind project at Newcastle University was featured by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) last week, as a brilliant example of how an impact project can develop over time. This is a reblog of the original article found here. For more on the Girl-Kind project and for updates see their website here

Young people in the North today are proud of where they from and proud to be Northern, shows research from the Children’s Commissioner for England. At the same time, many are growing up in communities of entrenched disadvantage. In relation to girls, the 2016 report The State of Girls’ Rights in the UK by Plan International UK found that ‘a girl’s location is critical’ across many different aspects of her life, including opportunities and access to resources.

The Girl-Kind North East project was launched in response to these findings, which identified North East England as the ‘worst place to be a girl’ – based on indicators such as child poverty, female life expectancy, teenage pregnancy, GCSE grades and whether girls were in education, employment or training. The project creates a space for girls themselves to explore these contradictions, without imposing assumptions about what these statistics tell us about their own experiences.

The project is led by Dr Sarah Winkler-Reid, a Lecturer in Social Anthropology at Newcastle University, and Dr Sarah Ralph, a Senior Lecturer in Media and Cultural Studies at Northumbria University. Both conduct research on girls’ lives and growing up in Britain, and have drawn on this work to develop Girl-Kind. Sarah Winkler-Reid’s ethnographic research in a London school explores young people’s everyday lives and relationships in school, while Sarah Ralph explores how media is used in everyday social interactions. Despite stereotypical media representations of girls as passive and unthinking, both these studies encountered girls as active, skilled and critical individuals.

A pessimistic and moralist tone pervades media representations of contemporary girls. However, the girls we have encountered through our previous research and through Girl-Kind are thoughtful, critical and reflective about both their own lives and how news and fictional media represents them (Sarah Winkler-Reid)

Working with groups of girls aged 11-16 from schools across the North East, the Girl-Kind project creates a space for girls to explore their own selves, relationships and contemporary representations of girlhood, with workshops leading up to UN’s International Day of the Girl Child in October. An initial workshop focuses on the challenges and opportunities of growing up as a girl in the North East. The participants choose a particular focus theme and produce creative outputs and performances that are showcased on the International Day to family members, friends, invited dignitaries, and members of the public.

With funding from an ESRC-funded Impact Acceleration Account (IAA), the pilot project in 2017 was carried out with Year 10 students at two schools in Newcastle and South Shields. The project expanded through follow-on ESRC IAA funding in 2018 with five further schools, in North Tyneside, County Durham and Teesside. It will run for the third time in 2019 in ten schools across the North East.

“We are constantly in awe of way girls are able to articulate their experiences and their righteous sense of injustice. They have devised so many fantastic, creative and distinctive ways to express these,” adds Dr Winkler-Reid. “The International Day of the Girl offers a dedicated day for them to revel in the brilliance of being a girl from the North East. Our event is a celebration for the girls, as well as opportunity for the audience to learn about what it means to be growing up as a girl today.”

Impact from critical research: what might it look like and what support is required?

Ahead of REF 2021, Ruth Machen considers what impact from critical research could look like and how assessment frameworks could support, rather than squeeze out, space for critical research. Four modes of critical research impact are outlined: challenging policy; empowering resistances; platforming voices; and nurturing new critical publics. Note that this was originally published on the LSE Impact Blog

Critical research is often impassioned by a desire for social change. Yet as research that challenges the status quo – by unpacking the socio-historical contingency of meanings and exposing the reproduction of structural inequalities of power – critical research often faces a more challenging pathway to impact. As demands for demonstrating impact are increasingly woven throughout the funding and institutional architectures of higher education, Smith and Stewart are not alone in raising concerns that the impact agenda could adversely affect critical and blue-skies research, favouring instead research that lends itself more easily to societal uptake.

With the draft guidelines for REF2021 open for consultation, now, perhaps more than ever, is a good moment to think about what impact from critical research could look like. And how assessment frameworks could support, rather than squeeze out, space for critical research. To this end, this post outlines four modes of critical research impact: challenging policy; empowering resistances; platforming voices; and nurturing new critical publics.

Research impact: to engage or not?

Anxiety around the impact agenda arises from the increasing instrumentalisation of knowledge, the corporatisation of UK higher education, and the relationship between assessment metrics and neoliberalism (Pain et al. 2011, Pain 2014, Gregson et al. 2012, Olssen 2015). As well as fears that impact will prioritise certain kinds of knowledge, there are also concerns it rewards particular types of researcher; academic elites with established reputations and influential networks rather than early-career or international researchers (Smith and Stewart 2016). These are vitally important concerns. Yet some scholars also identify opportunities for “doing impact differently”. Participatory Action Research (PAR) had delivered social benefits through collaboration with non-academic partners long before research impact became instrumentalised within academic assessments (Pain et al. 2011). Pain in particular seeks to reclaim impact as “walking together”, rather than “striking a blow” (2014; see also Evans 2016). Likewise, Reed and Chubb suggest that impact is a provocation to reconsider our intrinsic motivations for research and epistemic responsibilities. Re-engaging with these, they argue, incentivises impact without research becoming driven by external incentives (Reed and Chubb 2018). Perhaps there is merit in heeding Back’s argument that, as soon as someone suggests “this would make a good impact case study”, we should be alert to how our attention is being directed. However, does pursuing impact necessarily put us, as Back (2015) suggests, “on the side of the powerful”?

Exempting Laing et al’s recent work in education (2018), there is a strange silence around what impact in critical research might look like beyond PAR. Suggestions that not all research, and not all researchers, need to realise impact open space for critical research only through exception, negation, or omission. Instead, building from Pain et al.’s emphasis on the “political imperative to restate the kind of academy in which we want to work” (2011:187), I focus on how impact might be pursued in ways that support and enrich critical agendas.

What might critical research impact look like?

A review of the REF2014 impact case studies yields the following simple typology, which might provide a useful starting point:

 Figure 1: four possible modes of critical research impact

Mode 1: Challenging policy

The UK Government Magenta Book – the UK Government’s guidance for policy evaluation – in principle endorses the need for critical approaches that unpack assumptions underlying policy and analyses. Confronting mainstream policy head-on could involve policy amendments by highlighting the implications of existing policies on particular underrepresented groups, geographies, or concerns. More transformative policy change is likely to involve election manifesto writers and/or targeted social pressure rather than consultations within existing policy cycles.

Mode 2: Empowering resistance

Greater traction around critical research findings is sometimes found amongst activist organisations with a degree of policy standing. For these organisations, research, or the connections it articulates, may help to strengthen their discursive position or alternative vision.

Mode 3: Platforming voices

This mode is typified by PAR, where working with marginalised communities often co-produces research questions around non-academic challenges, foregrounds and empowers underrepresented voices, and sometimes challenges participant narratives through deliberation (see Roberts and Escobar’s work on citizen juries).

Mode 4: Nurturing new critical publics

Critical research can inspire new critically engaged citizens. Gregson et al. (2012) argue that engaging with schools can “reclaim critical praxis and constitute new critical subjects”. With rapidly developing digital technologies and the growing role of social media in generating critical publics, there are opportunities to think about new forms of media through which critical publics become fashioned, politically engaged, and/or mobilised.

Recommendations for supporting critical research impact

To support and encourage critical forms of research in the pursuit of societal change, assessments of research impact should bear in mind the following:

  1. Direct policy citation of critical research is rare. Change is more likely through political ownership of ideas, and what Pain et al. have called a “more diverse and porous series of smaller transformative actions that arise through changed understanding among all of those involved” (2011: 187). Retaining a strong focus on narratives in impact assessment and recognising the role played by relationships are both important.
  2. Changing the terms of debate is difficult and slow, with quick wins unlikely. Critical research impact may require longer timeframes to develop, materialising outside or cross-cutting assessment periods.
  3. Marginal/alternative organisations may be smaller and/or more local in reach. Assessing significance and reach together helps to prevent reach from dominating.

The typology presented here is basic, provisional, and by no means exhaustive. Its goal is to prompt debate and expand possibilities for thinking about critical research impact. With similar conversations reportedly held at Open (2013), Bristol (2013), and Glasgow (2015) universities, it would be great to hear more about these discussion findings – especially in thinking through forms of impact beyond policy

Ruth Machen is a Research Fellow at Newcastle University. Her research on science-policy interaction focuses on environmental knowledge where her recent work takes a critical look at science-policy translation – Towards a Critical Politics of Translation


‘Learning how to learn’ – finding out about the Community Curriculum approach

This week ESRC IAA Officer Dr Eve Forrest, went to find out more about a new approach to school based community partnerships.

On a beautiful autumn afternoon this week, I was lucky enough to travel up to Belsay Hall in Northumberland in time for the opening of a new exhibition called ‘Reimagining Ancient Greece’ a collaboration between Dr Sally Waite, a researcher in Greek Art and Archaeology at Newcastle University, the Shefton Collection at the Great North Museum, English Heritage and Belsay Primary School.


The project combined different elements of the ‘Community Curriculum’ approach, a local-learning model developed at Newcastle University Centre for Learning and Teaching, exploring the potential of utilising community partners to collaborate on a specific area of a school’s curriculum that they have specialist knowledge in. The idea of exploring Greek art and mythology began as part of a pilot from another ESRC Impact Accelerator (IAA) awarded project and has since developed into its own standalone work with new partners. What made the collaboration particularly unique was the strong partnership between Newcastle University and the Great North Museum. In particular it drew from artefacts in the large Shefton Collection, using some pieces that had never been on display before which was hugely exciting for the teachers and pupils too. Using these artefacts as a starting point, children created hands on artwork that allowed them to explore in-depth the everyday life and art of the Greeks as part of their learning in class.

Within a couple of the very grand rooms at Belsay Hall (itself an inspiring and unique example of Greek Revival architecture) glass cases are filled with ancient artefacts and their new interpretations.  Original coins and pottery plates sit beside beautifully painted fragments and coin replicas made by the Year 3 and 4 Belsay pupils. Learning through hands-on art work was central to the project and artist Mina Heydari-Waite guided the children in their drawings and painting, alongside making their own artefacts and in turn, helping create excitement and curiosity about classics and archaeology.

Athenian red-figure wine cup, 525-500 BC, depicting Herakles helping himself to some wine in the cave of the centaur Pholos.

Fragments showing the Labours of Herakles, decorated by year 3 and 4 children at Belsay School and (bottom right) an Athenian red-figure fragment from a krater (used for mixing wine and water) of the fifth century BC depicting the head of Herakles (Shefton Collection 593).

What came across from the children and teachers at the launch was their huge enthusiasm for this new style of learning. In her welcome to those gathered at the opening Clare Cantwell, Head Teacher at Belsay School, perfectly encapsulated the approach from the pedagogical side describing it as a new way of  ‘learning how to learn’ and talked of the potential that this method could have in refreshing  their approach toward lesson planning. The exhibit may be drawing from the distant past but it is clear in the strength of the exhibition that the community curriculum approach is forward-facing and has huge potential as a future method for curriculum development at a local and national level.

Reimagining Ancient Greece  runs until 25th February 2019 at Belsay Hall. To find out more about the Community Curriculum approach and to access resources please go here.

The exhibition was funded through awards from HaSS Faculty, School of History, Classics and Archaeology, The Institute of Classical Studies and Newcastle University Humanities Research Institute  

Read about preparations for the exhibition on the Institute of Classical Studies blog here and here.