What Works Scotland has established a process to enable University of Glasgow masters students to conduct their dissertation fieldwork in Glasgow’s Thriving Places. This allows interested students to have research impact and for Thriving Places to receive useful evidence to inform future work.

As part of our research to support Thriving Places in Glasgow and at the request of Thriving Places public service workers, What Works Scotland facilitated a process for Masters students in health and social science subjects at the University of Glasgow to conduct their dissertation fieldwork in one of the Thriving Places areas – specifically Parkhead, Dalmarnock and Camlachie – and so produce evidence to inform its work to tackle multiple deprivation.

In autumn 2015 the Thriving Places community connector and health worker co-produced a seminar with Dr Richard Brunner to provide more information to new Masters student. One student took up the opportunity and completed her dissertation in September 2016, supervised by a University of Glasgow academic, and also produced a lay report which summarised her findings.

Thriving Places Lay Report: Family Meal and Homework Club – Parents’ Experiences of Social Capital (PDF)

  • Author: Isabelle McLaren
  • Supervisor:  Dr Richard Brunner

The findings of the study have since been used by Thriving Places’ workers to evidence the benefits of a community approach in education and the benefits of a Thriving Places approach to health.

In 2016, two introductory seminars were held with a second Thriving Places area – Easterhouse – also taking part. Thirty-seven students attended and five produced collaborative dissertations in September 2017 as well as lay summaries of the findings.

In Parkhead, Dalmarnock and Camlachie:

Thriving Places Lay Report: Participant experiences of belonging at the Barrowfield Ball (PDF)

  • Author: Linda Butterfield
  • Supervisor: Dr Richard Brunner

Thriving Places Lay Report: #ONEBIGHAPPYFAMILY and the Commonwealth Games Legacy (PDF)

Thriving Places Lay Report: Implications of Work-based Community Intervention on Crime Desistance (PDF)

In Easterhouse:

Thriving Places Lay Report: A case study of community participation within Easterhouse (PDF)

Thriving Places Lay Report: Participatory Budgeting – An analysis of the Grant Scheme approach (PDF)

In November 2017, two further seminars took place for Masters students, this time also involving students from education and economics, and a third Thriving Places area, Springboig and Barlanark. These were attended by 38 students, some of whom may undertake collaborative dissertations in 2017-18.

Dr Richard Brunner led the initiative until 2017-18 when he handed leadership over to Emma Smith, Work Related Learning Opportunities Co-ordinator at the College of Social Sciences, with the aim of mainstreaming the initiative and making it sustainable beyond the lifespan of What Works Scotland.

Value of the collaboration

The collaborative dissertations have enhanced relationships between the University, in the West End of Glasgow, and some of the areas of highest deprivation in the East End of the city.

Richard Brunner explains the process and its outcomes:

“The Masters students do some empirical research on a project or activity in a Thriving Places area, usually involving a set of interviews or observations over a three-month period. They write a dissertation based on this which includes academic literature, their empirical evidence, concepts and theory. The collaborative dissertations are strongly supervised, as with all Masters’ dissertations within the University, so each has a strong degree of rigour. They also include a lay summary of their evidence for practitioners working in Thriving Places.”

“In the process, the students have had a great opportunity to link up with professionals working in some of the most deprived areas of Glasgow, and to do some impactful fieldwork in the ‘real world’. The collaborative dissertations offer insights that may inform or supplement other research evidence that Glasgow CPP collect in relation to Thriving Places, providing evidence of the impact of particular Thriving Places processes, projects or programmes, and posing evidence-based questions for practitioners.”

The students’ experiences

“I was more motivated to ensure a good quality research because it was a collaborative one with Thriving Places. Knowing that my dissertation could have a positive impact made me work harder on it, which ensured me an ‘A’. I learned a lot with the different stakeholders I had to contact and interview and saw a public policy through different lenses, which was very important for the understanding of how public policies work in reality and how it impacts.”

“Working on a collaborative dissertation with Thriving Places was a very rewarding experience. I really enjoyed meeting the staff and being part of a project which is making a real difference to people’s lives. It was also very motivating to be working on research where your recommendations have the potential of being implemented.”

“A collaborative dissertation is a great opportunity to conduct research with meaningful outcomes. I had the freedom to choose my topic area whilst still knowing that it would be of use beyond only my academic interest. I was welcomed with open arms into the Thriving Places community and thoroughly enjoyed working with staff and residents alike. I am really glad I took this opportunity and would recommend others to do the same.”

Supervisors’ views

“a useful innovation which overcomes problems of access to interviewees, which is perennial problem here…”

“This is an excellent way to teach student skills in knowledge exchange and impact. This type of dissertation has the additional benefit of matching university resources to the most deprived neighbourhoods in Glasgow and creates the potential to produce new exciting research that is more immediate and applicable to the needs of local communities and service providers.”

Benefits for Thriving Places

Maggie MacBean Orr, Community Organiser for Thriving Places explains how Thriving Places can use the research to effect change:

“Having students carrying out independent research in communities enables Community Organisers and Thriving Places partners to influence for positive change. I have personally used lay reports to influence city-wide projects to improve accessibility to funding initiatives and to inform Thriving Places partners and colleagues.  This is really, really useful.”