When I joined IARS last summer it represented a long over due step in my career moving from project delivery and management into a more research based academic career. For the past 15 years I had spent my working life working on and managing projects that supported some of the most marginalised groups in the UK.
For the later part of that time, I was also completing a PhD researching a local deprived neighbourhood that had a reputation for being a hot bed for serious youth crime. During my research I saw how local residents were systematically marginalised by the processes and organisations that were meant to support and empower. En vogue ideas such as co-production and other consultative processes seemed more about professionals getting local lay people approval for already pre designed projects. As such I started to become increasingly disillusioned with the often tokenistic nature many community development processes that seemed to be more interested in suppressing rather than welcoming voices from the grass roots.
Joining IARS then was a welcomed change, but not in the way that I thought. I was thinking that leaving the world of direct delivery would mean leaving the frustrations of seeing dissenting voices from the ground silenced by professionalism and managerialism, however that wasn’t the case. Instead I had joined an organisation which had listening and championing these voices in their life blood. IARS is essentially a research and policy organisation, but at the heart of all their projects are four advisory boards made up of young people, refugee and asylum seeking women, the LGBT community and victims of crime. And our role as staff? To make sure that the voices of these advisory boards not only guide our own work but are heard and influence the work of our partners and by policy makers hear in the UK and across Europe.
Sometimes people and organisations fall out with us for not keeping quiet, but we are not here to please people, IARS is here to keep true to our word and make sure some of the most marginalised groups can finally have their say.
As I get ready to continue my journey into academia further, I look forward to collaborating with IARS and the various groups they empower in the future.