Collaborative research with the Newton Fund

 

The Newton Fund uses science and innovation partnerships to promote economic development and social welfare of partner countries. It does this through collaboration with partner countries and working with 15 UK delivery partners. The Newton Fund is also part of the UK's official development assistance (ODA).

The Newton Fund was launched in 2014 and now has a total UK investment of £735 million to 2021, with partner countries providing matched resources within the fund.

When it comes to academic success it's not only good to talk, it's essential. Being able to work collaboratively with others in the field is vital.

But when your colleagues are based in countries where research funding is hard to obtain, these kinds of partnerships can become impossible. And that's where the Newton Fund comes in.

“Put simply, the fund gave us an opportunity to carry out vital collaborative research in India that we would have struggled to do otherwise,” says Dr Aylin Orbasli, School of Architecture at Oxford Brookes University.

The Newton Fund was launched in 2014 and is a government initiative to build partnerships between the UK and 16 collaborating countries. Activities funded under Newton must promote the economic development and welfare of the collaborating countries.

To date the AHRC has funded over 20 projects with a total investment of £2.8million.

Community-led heritage regeneration

Using Newton funding Dr Orbasli was able to team up with colleagues at the School of Planning and Architecture, Delhi, to develop methodologies and engage in a programme of 'community-led heritage regeneration' in collaboration with a local NGO, Center for Urban and Regional Excellence (CURE), as well as public sector authorities and local communities.

This project was particularly significant for Dr Orbasli as it meant that she was finally able to work with a research partner she had known for many years and had similar research interests to.

Professor Janice Carruthers
India Community Workshop – credit Rosa Teira Paz

“We both did our PhDs in the UK. We come from the same ethos, we shared the same supervisor. But we hadn't yet worked together,” says Dr Orbasli.

“The Newton Fund grant meant that we could develop our interests together and discover new angles that we might not previously have been aware of.”

In addition, the Newton Fund grant enabled Dr Orbasli to create a multinational teaching and learning experience for students. “We both took students out into the field and they got involved in the research,” she says. “They got involved gathering data and proposing projects.

“We were then able to use their work to test what we were doing and that kind of created a double loop; the students had a chance to work in a multinational environment and produce valuable material that we could then use.

“They've come back with a deep interest in working in the development field. They now want to get more involved and take this further.”

Using creativity and culture in response to social issues

Academics don't always have a ready-made network of research contacts – and it’s here that the Newton Fund can also help build collaborative work from the ground up.

The Creative Lab project began as a workshop in Rio de Janeiro convening researchers and arts practitioners from the UK and Brazil and created a network focused on the use of creativity and culture to respond to social issues in Brazil.

The AHRC approached Paul Heritage at People’s Palace Projects, a research centre specialising in Arts and Humanities exchanges on social justice themes, to connect the participants to potential collaborators and partners including 8 local NGOs, a dozen artists, and local advisors on Rio’s urban challenges.

Professor Janice Carruthers
Rio Creative Lab – credit Francisco Costa/People’s Palace Projects

The initial workshop was a success and now seven further projects have received funding to apply collaborative research to a social challenge in the local context.

“It was very satisfying that every one of the UK-Brazilian teams that formed during the initial workshop applied to develop a research project, and every one of those collaborations was delivered and showcased in Rio less than six months later,” says Rosie Hunter, Executive Director, People's Palace Projects, School of English and Drama at Queen Mary, University of London.

Additional funding has also been made available to extend the activity of the programme for further impact. One such project, involving the Open University, Queen’s University Belfast, Rio’s Federal University and local NGO Redes da Maré, explores the power of the arts to raise awareness of the number of people who are killed in armed engagements with the police.

“It's obviously a very delicate subject,” says Hunter. “But both the Rio police and the Metropolitan Police here in London are engaged with us. They are very much involved in order to be part of the solution.

“We are so pleased to see the partnerships that were brought together in the pilot workshop being sustained. There is a community of common research interest that is being developed here.

“We are bringing people together in an awareness of the complex needs of the community, thinking about the needs of that community, and being able to engage serious partners like the police in the process.

“The outcome of all of this work will only be seen in the long term, of course. But we are very encouraged by the engagement of our partners.”

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