Dialogue activities facilitate stakeholders’ communication

Lisa Bomble, PhD Candidate, Chalmers University of Technology

Time is an issue in co-creation of knowledge; the researcher and the practitioner may have completely different timelines to meet. This is apparent not least in dialogue cases, where the process could be dependent on more immediate access to knowledge than the normal peer-review publishing model allows.

Lisa Bomble is a PhD Candidate at Chalmers University of Technology studying architecture, working with the municipality of Lerum about 20 kilometres outside Gothenburg. The community has a vision to be the most sustainable community in Sweden by 2025. Bomble is studying how the different stakeholders communicate about issues and problems they are trying to solve.

Q: What work are you doing with the community?

A: They call the small town of Gråbo, within the Lerum municipality, a prototype. I call it a lab. There were three new schools built in 2012, using sustainable materials with efficient energy. They also have instituted food waste collection alongside and trash, and other initiatives spreading across Gråbo.

I am looking at the co-production group, which is an attempt to involve people, living in the community, not just at the end of the project, but while things actually are happening. For every single issue, it’s frustrating and also rewarding because they ask, ’Can we do this?’  It’s not a body of power, but a body of dialogue where everybody from the community with a stake in an issue can sit down around a table to discuss. Gråbo has three churches, the schools, a gardening club, sports association, historical societies – all of them have sent representatives to discuss challenges and solutions.

Lerum is a case study for my PhD thesis, to examine how stakeholders communicate. I’ve tried to tag what’s been discussed at all of the meetings and helped them to not make the same mistake twice. … It’s a “formative assessment”: I’m just here to listen, and to report back at certain intervals. They have spent a lot of time discussing what other groups might be doing – my key word to them is ‘transparency’! They’ve since established cross-meetings or trans-meetings between groups concerned with different community issues.

Q: How does the community see you and how does it affect your practice?

A: Time is the big question: a practitioner works on completely different deadlines than academics. Academics report in articles – it’s a year before it’s peer-reviewed and edited – it’s way too slow to be called an actual dialogue. I’m always behind. It’s also frustrating from the practitioner’s point of view, that the academic won’t say anything on the spot: it’s hard to be spontaneous – I cannot give my personal view on what is happening in the meeting if I am there to compare and document what they do and don’t do.

As an academic, I meddle after the fact. If I had been a practitioner welcome at these forums, I could have linked things that happened before more quickly. However, if I am to look at how their communication works, it is to let that miscommunication happen. It’s a hard position to be in on occasion, and sometimes liberating. If I were responsible, I would be on pins and needles all the time. Now I can go in the next day and say, ‘I think you two should meet.’

Q: Why is your work important, in bringing together practice and research?

A: Academic knowledge needs to be more accessible – I need to be able to share with Lerum to show how their example impacts the academic world. If it’s too inaccessible, in journals they cannot find, it’s not useful.

If knowledge isn’t used, then what use is it? I think there’s a lot of academic knowledge buried that only peer reviewers see. If it stays buried, then we keep re-inventing the world. Part of connecting academia to practice is that it makes it vital.

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