Postdigital inclusion partnerships: reimagining HE community engagement through cross-sector dialogue and collective publications

In Higher Education there is an expectation that academics build knowledge exchange partnerships within the wider community. Yet often these engagements can be perceived as universities connecting with citizens, companies or external agencies, to extract a contribution of data, experience or time, without a clear, reciprocal benefit to the partner they engage with.

This paper will firstly present key findings from 2 EPSRC funded Human Data Interaction projects (2020-2023). The cross-sector regional partnership approach we developed in these collaborative, digital inclusion, data and disadvantage projects will be discussed in terms of HE community engagement, but with ongoing, mutual benefits. These engagements are captured in our 2023 Springer book: Human Data Interaction, Disadvantage and Skills in the Community: Enabling Cross-Sector Environments for Postdigital Inclusion. The pleasures and challenges of developing our dialogue into peer-reviewed chapters from authors working across different sectors of the wider community were discussed also in a recent interview and seminar. As our partnership process developed into cross-sector co-publication, we noticed that much deeper connections were formed between authors and editors.

Therefore secondly, this paper also describes how a new international collaborative cross-sector project: Postdigital Citizen Science and Humanities is building on our earlier work on postdigital inclusion partnerships, to grow mutual understanding of citizen researcher roles and challenges as they work with HE partners. Our planned ‘listening events’ in Zagreb, Bath, Brighton and New Zealand explore how traditional power imbalances with universities might be shifted by hearing how citizens engaging with HE partners to participate in research projects choose to identify themselves, their roles and ambitions.

Finally we will share some themes that emerged from our first listening event in Zagreb (April 2024), where participants ranged from meteorologists, to museum curators, librarians, a pilot and air archaeologist, a ghetto photographer, a vertical gardener, and a dry stone specialist. Along with the importance of language and identity, this diverse postdigital dialogue raised matters of environment, democracy, power dynamics, affiliation, data sharing and interactions, and the slowness of academic publication processes versus the urgency to disseminate findings, to support change and meaningful participation as citizens in research and innovation with HE partners.