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Paula Black and Rich Pickford, Nottingham Civic Exchange

11 November 2019, 9:47 UTC Share

Nottingham’s Good Work Programme: A place-based approach to addressing economic insecurity

Bringing together policy development, civic engagement, student experience and academic research.

Nottingham Civic Exchange is Nottingham Trent University’s ‘civic think tank’. Having a deep understanding of place arising from analysis and a rootedness in the local setting helps to focus our work. Our intention is to broaden questions of how we get policymakers to listen to research findings, to how do we incorporate diverse voices into the discussion of what constitute important issues and into developing policy and practice solutions from this position.

It is through this process of research and engagement that we developed our programme on Good Work. As with everything we do the Good Work programme contains research, practical interventions, events, learning experience for our students, and community participation. What then does a multi-dimensional programme of this type look like? Or, put another way, what does a day in the life of Nottingham Civic Exchange consist of?

Our initial interest arose from a partnership with the RSA and a joint report, which began to theorise the broad conceptual framework of Economic Insecurity. We have since continued to work with the RSA, for example, on their Economic Security Impact Accelerator.

We are bringing together multiple research projects, the common characteristics of which are to understand the nature of employment practices and to develop practical initiatives and policy solutions to move us towards Good Work. Alongside academics from Nottingham Business School, we produced an in-depth analysis of the structure of the local labour market. In common with other cities which have experienced de-industrialisation, Nottingham’s employment is now dominated by the service sector and back-office functions. This data analysis has been useful to make the case for a Good Work Nottingham programme.

Researchers in our Psychology Department have spoken with local residents about their experience of living with economic insecurity (of which low paid and insecure work is a part). They have examined the mechanisms that help families and communities to build resilience against financial shocks. This research is helping to design policy responses, such as interventions to strengthen community and family resilience. The findings are contributing to research expertise on social prescribing. Other organisational psychologists are focusing on how to make improvements to workplace health and wellbeing. Colleagues are conducting research with platform workers to understand how precarity plays out in the gig economy. Stakeholders engaged in this research include workers who are forming trades unions in these occupations. A team from across NTU built a policy tool that predicts the most likely locations of problematic hand car washes. Through combining research on the informal economy with this predictive mapping, they are working with Government Agencies to improve practice and support changes in licensing and legislation.

Student experience is also a key component of the programme. We have held multi-disciplinary ‘hackathon’ events where students developed policy recommendations for tackling economic insecurity. We also engage our students to apply theory in the real world through a range of projects. Sociology students who take part in Service Learning will carry out research with staff working for employment agencies. Findings from this experience will complement a community listening exercise we have supported. Through our membership of Nottingham Citizens, NTU is a partner with 37 organisations coming together as a broad-based community organising movement. A large-scale listening exercise identified work and wages as pressing concerns for our residents. Our students’ gain direct experience of community engagement and provide evidence for community-led action on employment practices. As the new KEF framework contains metrics for Public and Community Engagement, mechanisms for incentivising engagement will bring a focus on how universities work with the public and our communities. This is an area I believe will become more salient to universities as KEF develops.

Bringing together our research expertise with evidence from residents and workers, we supported our conversations with the City Council about how they can provide political leadership for a Good Work Nottingham initiative, starting with a roundtable with public and private sector employers in 2020.

Our objectives for this programme then are multiple. We aim to:

• produce academic papers and forge new partnerships leading to research development and funding applications;

• deliver change in its broadest sense whilst also delivering REF impact case studies;

• integrate students into how we plan the programme;

• support colleagues who share a commitment to genuine engagement with our local communities across the university;

• see Nottingham recognised as a Good Work City;

• work with local and national government, regulatory bodies and professional organisations;

• and, most importantly, support positive change made for the lives of our residents and workers.

We believe all aspects of this programme are mutually reinforcing. This type of multi-dimensional approach is made possible by the existence of a dedicated ‘civic think tank’ within the university which can span departmental boundaries and create a space which incentivises teaching, research and engagement activities to be deployed on issues of relevance to our place.

To find out more about Nottingham Civic Exchange and Good Work Nottingham please visit our webpages or email us at

Dr Paula Black is the Director of Nottingham Civic Exchange, leading the overall development and direction of our work. She has taught sociology at the Universities of Sussex, Manchester and Derby. She’s also worked extensively as a researcher, and as a senior manager in local government.

Rich Pickford’s role is to maximise the impact of Nottingham Civic Exchange’s work – by designing their events and establishing networks and programmes with researchers, communities, businesses and residents. Rich has a background in outdoor education and youth work, and prior to working with NTU worked for the RSA, supporting their initiatives throughout Wales and the Midlands.

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