This project seeks to determine the extent to which complexity theory might offer the most effective means for understanding how communities can be successfully engaged in and with academic research. In the project, we adopted a case study approach, working with participants in a number of projects which had significant community engagement. These projects were all supported by the UK Beacons for Public Engagement, with which we also collaborated in our work. From the outset our research was informed by a Community Advisory Group, comprising community partners and engagement specialists.
The objective of our research was to identify the initial conditions that facilitated the creation of enabling environments for community engagement. A number of the research results challenged our theoretical assumptions. Revisiting these results, we were led to develop a new way of conceptualising community engagement, which we propose to call an „engagement cycle‟. We suggest that this engagement cycle comprises a number of differential „phases‟, each of which is constituted by its own characteristic processes.
This notion of an engagement cycle raises further research questions relating to the applicability of complexity theory to community engagement, as well as suggesting a number of issues that may inform the future development of the Connected Communities community engagement strategy.