Research Ideas from the Third Age (RITA) is an annual competition run by the University of the Third Age’s (U3A) Northumbria region where older people develop research project proposals, the winners receiving a small amount of funding and support from Newcastle University to conduct their own research. RITA’s main premise is to provide an opportunity for older people across the North East of England to help shape the University’s research agenda by suggesting research projects ideas and by highlighting questions that are pivotal to the experiences and lives of older people. The competition is also intended as a way to support research engagement by members of regional U3A’s – both by learning about latest research or undertaking research themselves – and as such emphasising the original values of cooperative and lifelong learning that the U3A organisation was initially founded upon.
Between March 2013 and early 2014 we ran a series of design workshops with U3A ‘research ambassadors’ who act as advocates for research within their own U3As. In these workshops we support the research ambassadors in developing research ideas and to explore what it means for there to be a ‘research culture’ within the U3A. We have been doing this through a mixture of methods that have supported them to share personal stories related to research, to deliberate in groups on what makes meaningful research activity, to reflect on the challenges they have faced within their own local U3As as advocates of research, and to provide informal feedback and critique to other peoples project ideas. The project s revealed a great many challenges related to preconceptions of the value of different approaches to research and how to support a diverse set of individuals with different levels of commitment and interest to research in engaging in their own research activities. At the same time, it provided interesting insight into alternative notions of undertaking citizen science, which is often limited to treating the public as a node to collect information for scientific pursuits.
Collaborators: Rob Comber, Clara Crivellaro, Vasillis Vlachokyriakos, Jim Edwardson, University of the Third Age North East Region, and VoiceNorth.
My role: Developing workshop methods and materials; facilitating workshops.
Funding: RCUK Social Inclusion through the Digital Economy hub.
Timescale: March 2013 – February 2014.