Celebrating 20 years of the Bonnart Trust
June 30, 2022
To celebrate our twentieth anniversary the trust organized a reception and discussion, held at Birkbeck on 17th May. The event was attended by Bonnart scholars past and present, academic staff, trustees and friends and supporters of the trust.
How does research get translated into action?
Freddie Bonnart established his trust to support research by postgraduate scholars. What particularly interested him was what we now call “impact”; in other words how research makes a difference in the wider world. In his words: “…it is the subsequent action that is the essential part”. What that “subsequent action” might consist of, and how to make it happen was the theme of the evening’s discussion.
Keiran Goddard, one of our trustees, introduced the speakers and chaired the subsequent discussion. The evening began with presentations from two academic researchers and two “users” of research.
Radha Chakraborty, chair of the Bell Foundation, spoke about how Bell had based its programmes on high quality commissioned research, and how that had given it purchase in national policy discussions.
Alison Blunt, Deputy Vice Principal for Impact at Queen Mary University of London, talked about the important role research plays in her university’s local and national relationships.
Will Stronge outlined his work as Director of Autonomy, a think tank, and how they had forged networks and partnerships between researchers, policy makers and the media.
Brendan McGeever, from Birkbeck, described how he engaged students in discussing the effects of research. He raised the question of values and how they are inextricably a part of any research agenda.
In the discussion that followed a number of key themes emerged:
Impact is often thought of as the direct and traceable influence that a piece of research has on some subsequent change to policy or to practice. Important though that is, many participants were looking for a wider meaning, and the discussion illustrated the many different ways in which research could influence thinking and action, from the individual, through local communities, to the national stage. Alison, for example, drew attention to the link between teaching and research, and to the fundamental characteristic of universities, where teaching is done by staff who are themselves researchers. That on its own provides an enduring conduit by which research thinking enters the wider community.
Similarly, the engagement of universities with local civic communities was an important mechanism. Whether through mainstream communication and dissemination, including the (much reduced) provision of adult education classes, or through joint projects with local groups, such engagement was an important but often overlooked mechanism by which the fruits of research entered public thinking.
Brendan’s comments on the question of values also led to a lively debate. Accepting that social science research can never be value free leads to complex questions about how existing value positions can be characterised and made explicit. And if the purpose of research is to support change in a particular direction, as it is for the Bonnart Trust, what influence might that have on methodologies, and on the interpretation and communication of findings?
All of these issues have salience for our programme. While it is unlikely that a student’s project will on its own bring about policy change, Bonnart students are active in their local communities and bring with them their developing understanding of research in their own field and others. The discussion raised interesting questions about the nature of postgraduate education, about the extent to which students should be encouraged to reflect on the impact of their research, and whether training in media and other forms of public communication should be part of the student experience.
Anthony Tomei, chairman.
Video interview with Alison Blunt, Deputy Vice-Principal for Impact, and Professor of Geography at Queen Mary, University of London
June 27, 2022
"I’m Alison Blunt. I’m Deputy Vice-Principal for Impact with a particular responsibility for Culture, Civic and Community at Queen Mary, University of London. I’m also a Professor of Geography."
How important is it that students think about the applications of their research?
"I think it’s really important. I think PhD research has such potential to really make a difference in the world, providing new evidence, new ideas, new engagements, new ways of communicating with different audiences in terms of wanting to make a really positive difference, wanting to affect positive change beyond the academy. I think also it’s quite difficult, as PhD students sometimes to do that, in terms of the time constraints, the funding constraints of completing a PhD. Sometimes, I think - from the very outset of a PhD project - to think about what the desired impact of that might be, and thinking about what networks, what collaborations, what partnerships might help in beginning to achieve that impact, and to think about building these relationships all the way through a PhD programme. And also - hopefully with the support of the supervisor - to really value a sense of research being outward facing, being in and off the world, and really wanting to make a positive difference, and a positive impact on the world."
Is it common practice for funding bodies to encourage students to think about applying their research, or is Bonnart doing something unusual?
"I think the Bonnart Trust is really distinctive, and really inspirational in terms of the priority that it places on wanting to achieve a society that’s tolerant, and a society that’s inclusive, and seeing that as core to the research that it’s funding. I think that makes it really distinctive, and enormously inspirational, and valuable. I think there are other PhD funding bodies that fund - for instance collaborative projects - that have real potential in terms of working with collaborative partners, and providing some additional research capacity to make a positive difference through that embedding the process of collaboration all the way through from the very design of the project onwards, but those collaborative projects aren’t necessarily focused on particular priority areas. I think the Bonnart Trust, really drawing out the values, and the importance and the sense of why research matters - is really crucial and something to be hugely admired."
Video interview with David Feldman, Director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Study of Antisemitism
June 27, 2022
"I’m David Feldman. I’m the Director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Study of Antisemitism. I’m also a Professor of History at Birkbeck, part of the University of London."
Has working with the Bonnart Trust influenced the way you think about your postgraduate students?
"I think working with the Trust has influenced the way I think about my students in at least 2 ways. First of all, there’s the way in which applying to the Trust requires candidates to think about - not only their subject - but the relationship of their subject to the world outside of the academy. And that’s unusual to have as a presence from the very inception of the research project. So that’s one point of difference. The other point of difference is the Trust itself as a funder. Of course, a number of research students do have funders - the Research Councils for example - but the relationship with the Research Council is not a personal relationship, it’s not an interaction in the same way as it is with the Trust, and the way in which one feels the responsibility to the Trust as well as to the student, that things ought to go as well as possible.
How do you think Trusts like Bonnart will have to evolve in the next few years?
"The Trust has already changed in a sense that it’s taken ideas about toleration - which is not a language that we use so much now - to talk about inclusivity, for example, and social justice. The ways in which these ideas are interpreted now are not the same as they were interpreted 10 or 15 years ago, or certainly 20 years ago. So I think the ways in which the Trust will change in the future will – to some extent - depend on the ways in which we continue to reinterpret ideas about inclusivity and diversity and pluralism in modern society."
Video interview with Shereen Hunte, Scholar, MA Student in Culture, Diaspora and Ethnicity, Birkbeck, 2020 to 2022
June 27, 2022
"Hi there! My name is Shereen Hunte, and I'm a Masters student on the Culture, Diaspora and Ethnicity Masters at Birkbeck College, University of London."
What is your research about?
"Now, my research. My research centres both the black community and the Jewish community in Britain. Throughout history, throughout British history, both of these communities have been largely defined by their racialized identities, or their status, but also by their histories of oppression and migration. Despite this, little research has been done in Britain to centre these communities, and to understand the potential for allyship and collaboration. That is where my research lies. Throughout my Masters, I have been studying on the role of whiteness, to both of these communities, I have looked into the relationship between the Shoah and history of colonialism as well. For my dissertation, I will be focusing in – on the potential for allyship for the Black community and the Jewish community in Britain going forwards. I truly believe that if we continue to learn and understand this potential, then we will be able to truly disrupt the foundations of racial and religious intolerance in this country today."
From BAME to ‘Ethnic Minority in Britain’ – a changing approach to ethnic disparities
September 2021 Newsletter
September 30, 2021
The Trust is pleased to share that Satyadev Gunput is a runners-up prizewinner for the Heywood Foundation's Public Policy Prize.
His submission, From BAME to ‘Ethnic Minority in Britain’ – a changing approach to ethnic disparities, seeks to find an innovative answer to a challenge or opportunity within society.
The Trust is a registered UK Charity and is governed by five volunteer Trustees and an administrator.
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