In July 2020, with the support of a COVID-19 Impact Acceleration Account Award, the Third Sector Knowledge Exchange Collaborative was launched (The Collaborative). The overall aim of The Collaborative is to build a mutually beneficial relationship between our University and Glasgow’s third sector, with positive outcomes for the third sector, academics and other staff, students and the University. We wanted to share with you some of the key outcomes and participant feedback from this pilot phase as we aim to continue this important work in the coming months.
We started this project to create benefits not only for the third sector organisations that participate, but for members of the university community and for the University as a whole. For the third sector, participation with The Collaborative can help improve its sustainability by accessing pro-bono technical advice on topics that matter to them and providing another point of contact into the University and its experts. For the university community, The Collaborative creates another pathway to access and connect with local third sector organisations for research and impact activities: generating opportunities for research, student-based consultancy projects and collaborative dissertations. The Collaborative also enables the expertise of Glasgow staff to contribute to work of the local community. All of this work contributes to building the profile and the reputation of the University of Glasgow as a civic university.
Our Phase 1 project goals were to:
- understand the training needs of Glasgow’s third sector during the COVID-19 crisis and recovery, in collaboration with project partner the Glasgow Council for the Voluntary Sector
- build a network of organisations interested in academic collaboration and learning with academics on areas of need
- build a network of academics to contribute expertise as advisors
- collaboratively develop and deliver two workshops for third sector organisations on identified areas of need and create training resources for the workshops.
Building the external third sector relationship
In the first phase we focused on developing our relationship with the Glasgow Council for the Voluntary Sector (GCVS), Glasgow’s main development agency and advocate for the city’s third sector and community organisations. GCVS identified priorities for training and acted as our gatekeeper to the sector, doing targeted outreach to its members. We hosted two workshops both of which encompassed two sessions. The first, entitled Managing Risk in Collaborative Working, was facilitated and designed by Dr Paula Karlsson-Brown from the Adam Smith Business School; the second, Digital and hybrid working: improving our practice, preparing for the future, was facilitated and designed by Dr Lavinia Hirsu from the School of Education. A total of 11 third sector organisations participated and gave very positive feedback.
In this first phase we have built a strong and positive relationship with GCVS and are working collaboratively to shape the next phase of our work. This includes making matches between third sector organisations and “technical advisors” from the University to address specific organisational needs. Our initial outreach has been to the organisations who participated in the training.
So what did third sector participants find useful?
In our Managing Risk workshop, participants commented that the session helped them realise that they may already be considering risk in their work, but perhaps without using the ‘risk’ language or tools. Therefore, the practical tools and discussions in the workshop will be useful when reviewing risk in existing collaborations and before starting new collaborations. Participants were grateful for the opportunity to work with colleagues at the University of Glasgow who not only have academic expertise but also a passion for the voluntary sector. Participants also noted that this opportunity allowed them to consider a fresh perspective from outside the third sector and for new ideas to be discussed and shared in a constructive space during the workshop programme.
In our Digital and Hybrid Working workshop, participants noted that it was good to hear about the experience of other participants and the virtual challenges that other organisations are facing, in addition to learning from the academic expert. The workshop programme also provided participants with a space to think about how they communicate with all of their beneficiaries during this time when most every service is provided remotely.
Building internal relationships at the University of Glasgow
At the same time as developing our external relationship, we began promoting The Collaborative internally. We hosted an information session in September for University colleagues with 50 people registering and 20 attending on the day. We received 30 applications from people interested in being matched with a third sector organisation or to contribute in other ways with The Collaborative. Applications came primarily from the College of Social Sciences (most of whom were from the Adam Smith Business School), with a couple from the School of Science and Engineering and the School of Medical, Veterinary & Life Sciences. Of the applications, 19 were from lecturers or senior lecturers; four from post-docs; five from PhD students; and two from research managers.
The interest from University staff suggests that there is indeed an appetite for more and deeper types of engagement with the local third sector through a project like The Collaborative. This project sits alongside other types of civic and community engagement that University staff members may already be contributing to. In the next phase of our work, we look forward to exploring with these academics the type of engagement opportunities it would be useful for The Collaborative to broker, and invite more academics to join our project. We also intend to continue our engagement with other internal stakeholders at the University to explore how to better coordinate engagement with the local third sector for the most impact.
Our accomplishments in Phase 1
The project team was pleased with the accomplishments that came out of this short-term funding and we hope to build upon this foundation in the next phase. Within the University the team was able to create another pathway through which academics, PGRs and other university staff can engage with and contribute to a third sector organisation, particularly an organisation connected with our formal project partner GCVS. The academics who signed up to our network and academics not yet engaged in our work can be matched with an organisation for individual engagements; can work with us to deliver a workshop; create resources; connect with organisations for integration into teaching practices or offer informal advice to organisations. In the next phase of our work, we aim to expand our offer to academics and broker more engagements.
Eleven third sector organisations received training through our two workshops, strengthening their skills and capacity in assessing risk and partnership working and in digital literacy, and broadly increasing their resilience and sustainability. Three of these organisations have signed up to be matched with a member of the University of Glasgow community for additional pieces of work to be determined by both partners in spring 2021.
Perhaps the most notable outcome of the project thus far is the strong relationship we developed with Glasgow Council for the Voluntary Sector, built on an ethos of co-production. All the activities, engagements and communications delivered in our first phase were co-designed with GCVS. They serve as an important partner and are our gateway into engagement with Glasgow’s third sector. Working closely with GCVS has allowed the project team to better understand the needs of the third sector so that we co-design engagements that are timely, relevant and have optimal impact potential for the third sector and for academics. We look forward to continuing and expanding this relationship with an important driver of change in Glasgow.
Personally, the project has significantly expanded the knowledge of the staff team as we have developed a deeper understanding of working both within the University and with the local third sector. As we proceed to further develop the model, we will utilise the learning in how we work with University of Glasgow partners and consider how a project of this type might be usefully scaled up to reach more third sector organisations and academics. Importantly, we are keen to explore how a project like this can better collaborate with existing initiatives at the University of Glasgow (to reduce duplication of effort) and contribute to larger strategic themes of civic engagement.
If you are a member of the University of Glasgow community and are interested in being involved please fill out this information form.
Blog content reflects the views of the author(s) and not the position of Policy Scotland or the University of Glasgow.