Initiator Marieke Hopman, assistant professor at the law faculty, starts by defining ‘community-engaged research’. “It’s research that intends to have an impact on society, that involves the relevant community, and that shares the results with that community.” This could apply to Hopman’s own research, in which she talked to children in the Central African Republic about their rights. Or professor Klasien Horstman’s ‘University in the Neighbourhood’ project, in which researchers and local people together look into what can be done to improve health, resilience and participation in their Maastricht neighbourhood.
But how do you get the community interested and involved? “At first, just observe”, says Christel van Beijsterveld, physical therapist and PhD candidate, “Look at what they do, need, and like. Then start talking. I had a lot of ideas about what I could do, but then I realized: I have to ask the patient. Let yourself get involved in their lives, rather than engaging patients in your research.” “And when you have started, invite them to reflect,” says Horstman. “We started a local Philosophy Café. Some people came to us, saying it was a bit too highbrow if we called it a philosophy café; maybe it should be common room or community centre. So we put it up for discussion and it turned out that most people preferred the name ‘Philosophy Café’. You need to have an ongoing dialogue.”
Horstman also warns the researchers in the room: a community is not homogenous. Philosopher Ties van de Werff nods. He is looking into how orchestras can attract new, younger audiences. “The role I don’t want to have, but into which I’m forced sometimes when there are discussions, is that of the big validator. They ask me to give my stamp of approval on an idea. It’s very tricky, because I do have ideas about what would be best, but I’m not in the orchestra. I should not be the one making the decisions.”
Another tricky thing is how to get funding. Hopman likes crowdfunding. “It’s amazing how interested people are in your research because they invested in it, even if it was a small amount.” But there are a lot of tempting offers you have to say no to. “What if you are at a network event talking to a person who is very wealthy and very interested in your research but also just… icky? I sometimes feel like I’m selling my soul a bit.”