Scoping the future law and social justice - listening & hearing from the frontline: final report

Zhao, J. ORCID: 0000-0001-6430-2356, Curran, L. ORCID: 0000-0002-6371-2975, Doak, J. ORCID: 0000-0002-3793-2819, Durdiyeva, S., Gallop, S. ORCID: 0000-0001-5699-361X, Hall, H. ORCID: 0000-0001-5553-9140, Henn, M. ORCID: 0000-0002-1063-3544, Lewis, T. ORCID: 0000-0002-3948-9961, Kellezi, B. ORCID: 0000-0003-4825-3624, O'Nions, H. ORCID: 0000-0001-5147-3113 and Trickett, L. ORCID: 0000-0003-4948-4088, 2023. Scoping the future law and social justice - listening & hearing from the frontline: final report. Nottingham Trent University.

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'Scoping the Future Law and Social Justice – Listening & Hearing from the Frontline' ran for eight months from November 2021 until June 2022. The project aimed to identify research priorities for the AHRC in the area of law and social justice, a broad field of study with diverse points of focus. It explores the role that the law and legal institutions play in addressing contemporary social challenges such as those associated with gender, the COVID-19 pandemic, modern slavery, hate crime, inequality, the digital revolution, capitalism, and climate change to achieve a more just society, particularly around meeting the needs and safeguarding the rights of excluded, vulnerable and marginalised communities. In considering the subthemes identified by the AHRC (governance, citizenship & representation, transitional justice, and cultures of exclusion), we note that many of the current debates in these fields are underpinned by the notion of accountability.

The project was designed around four workstreams (WS), which were designed to align with the AHRC and broader UKRI priorities. An interdisciplinary team at Nottingham Trent University undertook a comprehensive theoretical and empirical inquiry, informed by participatory action research, to formulate thematic and format-based recommendations for the AHRC. The research was co-designed with our research partners whom we refer to as ‘trusted intermediaries’ (TIs).

Feedback and guidance were received from the Advisory Group (AG), represented by members of academia and the public whose work is broadly related to social justice issues. Six meetings with the AG, either collectively or individually were held, and their feedback has been indispensable for sharpening our project design and reflecting on progress. The team adopted a mixed-methods approach, combining a literature (scoping) review as well as qualitative data collection and analysis. Through different stages of the project, we have developed three templates to enable consistent collation of data across the research team. The first template sought to elicit the gaps in the existing literature. The second reflected on the data collected through individual interviews or focus groups. The third triangulated the literature, transcripts from interviews, and transcript and field notes analysis against five benchmarks which had been identified at the beginning of the project in consultation with our TIs. Overall, we conducted 29 partners and TI semi-structured interviews, and six interviews and three focus groups with service-users. Analysis of this data led to findings and team discussions. A first draft of the report was presented at a Roundtable for feedback from TIs and the government officials present.

High quality research in the field of social justice, broadly defined, in the area of social justice is complex and multi-layered. This report recommends that future research in the field priorities stakeholder engagement that enables ongoing and respectful participatory research models involving the active co-design and collaboration of research partners. This should ensure that the nature of challenges in the field are properly understood, rather than based on assumptions contained in much of the established literature that may be outdated or may not be evidenced through the lived experiences of beneficiaries.

While the research was commissioned by the AHRC, there are clear overlaps with the remit of the ESRC. Causes of social injustice (as the data and access to justice literature reflect) are complex and multi-layered, and key issues often intersect, compound, and are often structural in nature. Accordingly, academic ‘silos’ can be unhelpful in seeking to provide impactful and effective solutions to social injustice. This project has revealed fundamental inequities in policy and administrative settings that exacerbate exclusion.

This report recommends that future research should prioritise interdisciplinary and participatory approaches which adopt shared language which cuts across disciplinary boundaries and is accessible to frontline service providers and end-users. While the research team for this project drew from expertise across different fields of law, politics and social psychology, we appreciate that future cross-disciplinary research might usefully draw upon the wider range of subject areas falling within the AHRC’s remit, including (but not limited to) to history, archaeology, anthropology, philosophy, languages, literature and the creative arts. This conclusion is based on our finding that creative pursuits can potentially play a useful role in reducing community isolation, build confidence, improve public trust and civic participation. The importance of interdisciplinary and cross-/multidisciplinary practise is also an area emerging as a way to improve responsiveness. This was noted by the REF2021 panel to be a point of strength and vibrancy in the current research landscape.

The research findings also highlight the importance of using non-technical and accessible language and non- judgemental ways of working in order to gain buy-in from frontline service-providers, including groups who represent the interests of socially excluded communities. Such an approach would help to combat research fatigue and the sense of ‘being used but not included’ which had been flagged by a number of our TIs in relation to their involvement previous academic research projects.

It is well established that austerity and competition for limited resources has had a major impact upon this sector. The sense of exhaustion and distrust should be acknowledged in in formulating future research strategies. While our own approach to this project can be characterised as iterative, reflective and responsive so as to enable a sense of ‘buy-in’ among our TIs, this has clearly not been the case in many previous research exercises. The allocation of future research funding should bear in mind the importance of co-design and collaboration to ensure that such funding represents value for money and that the nature of any findings are practical, relevant and evidence-based. These recommendations are in line with the REF panel’s observation that ‘the strongest submissions included Impact at all Points of the Research strategy and provided support, training and resources to develop External partnerships and relationships,’ further noting the ‘importance of outward focussing research with the outside organisation as ‘of vital importance to social progress and development.

Our recommendations for the AHRC focus is on the general characteristics of the support needed, specific recommendations for next steps, aims, type, scale, timelines, justification of support needed as well as partners and their roles.

1. The AHRC would benefit from funding mid to long term “Engagement Research”: with local communities, NGOs (including Foodbanks, Legal Advice Centres, Domestic Abuse services with modest additional resources so as not to deflect from service delivery on the front line), local government, policy makers, corporations, legal practitioners etc. We have identified four themes for Engagement Research (trust, accountability, vulnerability, citizen’s rights) and 10 topics.

2. The AHRC should fund Fellowships that utilise opportunities to work on internship/externship models to partner with third sector agencies so that on-the ground practical realities can shape and support empirical, comparative, theoretical and doctrinal research to address current global and domestic challenges. These areas of study are key to address particular challenges for which researchers may find it difficult to secure funding from other sources due to the nature of their discipline and research. These fellowships may follow three different routes: AHRC Scholarship Fellowships, AHRC Interdisciplinary Fellowships, and AHRC Engagement Fellowships. We have identified six themes to engage with for AHRC.

3. AHRC should fund an independently evaluated pilot Digital Hub for police, which serves an important role in supplementing community policing by building and retaining useful shared information.

Project design is in line with equality, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) criteria – which were taken into consideration not only with respect to how we have formed our team and distributed the tasks, but also how we recruited and drew on the expertise of partners and participants within the project.

Item Type: Research report for external body
Description: Commissioning body: AHRC
Creators: Zhao, J., Curran, L., Doak, J., Durdiyeva, S., Gallop, S., Hall, H., Henn, M., Lewis, T., Kellezi, B., O'Nions, H. and Trickett, L.
Publisher: Nottingham Trent University
Date: 16 July 2023
Divisions: Schools > Nottingham Law School
Schools > School of Social Sciences
Record created by: Jonathan Gallacher
Date Added: 25 Jul 2023 10:15
Last Modified: 25 Jul 2023 10:30

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