written by Piotr Wegorowski
I am a doctoral researcher on the Cardiff part of the project. I would like to talk about the very first meeting of a Local Advisory Group which took place several weeks ago here in Cardiff.
Although the project has a number of national partners, the Cardiff team has decided to set up a Local Advisory Group in order to obtain views of local communities and engage with people on a more local level. As the main language focus of the research here is Arabic, invitations were sent to a number of people connected somehow to this language. For example Saleem Kidwai, Secretary General of Muslim Council of Wales, has decided to join us along with Amer Jafar, Chair of the Arabic Cultural Society in Cardiff. We also welcomed Dr Buthenah Davies, an Arabic language teacher and manager of a business which helps students from overseas to move to the UK. Apart from people directly connected to the Arabic language and culture, there were members whose interests lay in the general issues of translation. A freelance translator, Mai Barry, who has joined the advisory group has even reached out to other projects taking place at Cardiff University, and she wrote a mini-article as a part of the FuzzyLaw project. A screen print of it is included in this blog and you can read the article in full here.
Our group also included academics. For example, Tereza Spilioti is a member of the academic staff here in the Centre for Language and Communication Research. Her research focuses on language and the new media, which is something that we’ll be examining within the project, and she has already met with some of the Cardiff team to help us to understand some of the data collection issues. Another researcher, Ellie Byrne, has visited us from School of Social Science, where is involved in another AHRC-funded project looking at representations of deprived/stigmatised communities and using the arts and humanities to develop arts-based forms of evidence that can be used to inform policy decisions. Martin O’Neill joined us bringing his expertise in engagement beyond academia and Idil Abdi Osman came along bringing expertise both as an academic and a bilingual broadcast journalist.
Even a very rainy and windy December day did not deter nine people from turning up to this first Local Advisory Group meeting. Dr Frances Rock, the project co-investigator, thanked everyone for arriving and explained what the project involves. Once we’d explained the gist of the project, its operation and its various motivations, we were keen to find out what the participants thought of it and how they could see it resonating with their own work and personal activities. We had intended to find out about this through a question and answer session but often that kind of format only allows time to hear from one or two people when time is limited. We therefore asked people instead to write some thoughts on paper and we then worked through the papers which seemed to make much better use of the time as well as leaving us with some useful things to think about for the future. This format idea was one which we had shamelessly stolen from a visiting speaker to Cardiff, earlier in the week, Professor Theo Van Leeuwen! We asked a series of questions in order to get as much feedback as possible. These were: Having heard about the TLANG project, what questions do you have? Having heard about the TLANG project, what comments do you have? Having heard about the TLANG project, what suggestions do you have?” It was really exciting to see that everyone wanted to get involved a bit more and some of them even expressed a desire for more frequent meetings than we had planned. A lot of them made very valuable comments. Some of them included the following statements:
“It sounds really interesting! Is there anything you need from us regarding dissemination and engagement?”
“The project is really interesting and I am very interested in the findings especially the culture side of the research.”
“Though we will only meet once a year, quarterly updates will be good.”
I felt that it was really good to see that people who do not necessarily have as an immediate interest as the research team are as enthusiastic about the project as we are.
As someone who is at the beginning of the research process, I have already heard on numerous occasions that academics need to try harder to put into practice the concept of ‘public engagement’. The first meeting of our Local Advisory Group has shown me that it is not just a dry concept but a powerful idea which can really help to connect with people
around us. This is especially relevant in this project which investigates such a topical issue as communication in a growingly multicultural society. The experience of meeting with people who find our project interesting and relevant to the issues affecting them simply makes our research useful. And I am looking forward to seeing how the connections which are starting to form will develop across the life of the project and even beyond it.