The WeAll project, which has received the Academy of Finland’s strategic funding, takes community engagement seriously. Researchers in the project agree to public appearances whenever possible. The needs and wishes of partners also impact research topics.

“High-standard research and community engagement are equally important in our project. We are doing community engagement in a new way, in close cooperation with our partners and stakeholders,” says Associate Professor Marjut Jyrkinen, who heads the WeAll project.

The WeAll project studies the professional opportunities of diverse groups of people. The world of work is studied from an intersectional perspective, considering age, gender, social status, ethnicity, sexual orientation and geographical location.

WeAll received funding from the Academy of Finland’s Strategic Research Council (SRC) during the first application round in 2015, and so far, it is the only such project to be coordinated by the University of Helsinki. Next year, three new SRC-funded projects will be launched at the University.

Listening to partners

 “We listen carefully to our partners, and remain open to their ideas,” says DPhil Mira Karjalainen, who is the research coordinator for the project.

“High-standard research and community engagement are equally important in our project."

 “For example, during the past 18 months, immigration and, consequently, ethnicity, have become more prominent factors in our research, as more information on immigrants is needed. One of our research topics has been the employment of highly educated immigrant women.”

The partners of the project include central trade unions, ministries and NGOs, forming a total of 20 partners.

What sets the Academy of Finland’s strategic projects apart from its other projects is that community engagement is a central funding criterion. The reporting is also different: researchers in the WeAll project wrote impact narratives as part of the first interim evaluation, which the Academy used as a basis for its decision to continue the funding.

Educated guesses

The researchers have also learned new skills to promote community engagement and become more confident speakers.

 “We’ve had to learn that we need to go speak at events even if we don’t yet have peer-reviewed research results on the topics. We have to trust ourselves as researchers to be at such a level that we can still speak as experts and make educated guesses,” says Karjalainen.

Social media has been an integral part of the work since the beginning.

 “Researchers in a project like this have to learn to use social media. It’s a part of the job. It’s easier for some than it is for others, but we all have to learn,” states Jyrkinen.

Social media has been an integral part of the work since the beginning.

Cooperation with partners, hosting seminars, serving as expert consultants, public engagements and maintaining a social media presence are time-consuming.

 “Our research is qualitative. We’ve collected new data on the role of fathers in working life, family leave and the employment of people over the age of fifty. We’ve made great strides in research, and have actually produced more publications than we expected. But in a project like this, where we are very focused on community engagement and try to always agree to public appearances, time does become a problem: when do we have time to do research?” Jyrkinen points out.

Support and tips

Following its success in the first funding application round, the project has accrued many kinds of concrete practical experience. Researchers in the WeAll project are happy to give tips to new strategic projects and prospective applicants, so they don’t all have to reinvent the wheel. For example, projects should allocate significant time and resources to perfect their graphic design and communications practices.

 “New projects must already be aware at the application stage that the research is conducted flexibly, in response to research needs that arise in society,” says Marjut Jyrkinen, WeAll research director.