Collaborating with partners offers us fresh thinking and a new lens to reconsider and reframe the challenges we face, and the services we provide to support the citizens of Essex. Our recent partnership with Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) has enabled us to do just that.
Students at the Heart of Knowledge Exchange (SHoKE) is a month-long semi-professional consultancy project delivered by teams of postgraduates and researchers, trained, and supported by professional staff at ARU. Teaming up with the students we provided them with a brief to generate their own analysis, research, and findings to increase the awareness and accessibility of our country parks, and to maximise Essex’s potential as a tourist destination.
Neale Daniel, project lead for SHoKE at ARU, said: “Students at the Heart of Knowledge Exchange (SHoKE) supports a growing community of at least 400 volunteer students who want to make a positive impact upon our society. The SHoKE team train and empower students to deliver consultancy projects in partnership with regional Councils, who have benefited from the diverse perspectives offered by ARU students around social issues.”
I have worked on a couple projects with SHoKE myself now and I’ve always been impressed with the contribution they’ve made and the speed at which they work! Once we provide teams with a brief, they only have a short time to understand the challenge in the context of local government, analyse solutions and collate their findings. Doing so must be an overwhelming experience initially, however I’m always inspired by the enthusiasm they bring to each project and the practical solutions they offer.
Tian Tian, who led the Tourism project (pictured), said of the programme: “It was undoubtedly challenging but also exciting and satisfying. As the project progressed, I felt confident in generating useful suggestions by utilising the knowledge and skills I got from my MSc subject, and the exploration of research questions made me more aware of social affairs that I did not pay attention to before.”
One of the real benefits of working with SHoKE on consultancy projects has been the breadth of skills and experiences each team member brings. SHoKE teams are often made up of students of different ages and from different cultures. They study a range of different academic disciplines and bring different working experiences. This diversity of experience and opinion brings out-of-the-box thinking, prompting solutions we may not have considered as an internal team.
In both projects, the teams brought creativity in tackling the subject matters, often where there were significant gaps in data available specifically about Essex. The students’ approach to the projects highlighted opportunities to learn from similar organisations around the world and has produced thought-provoking discussions about where we should focus our future research.
Mark Rowley, Commercial Operations Manager at Essex County Council, who worked with SHoKE on the country parks project added: “We were delighted to work with ARU students to bring a fresh perspective to the challenge of broadening awareness and accessibility of Essex’s Country Parks. The students worked diligently to understand and interpret the brief and then worked collaboratively with peers to draw conclusions and recommendations from a wealth of creative sources.”
Trudy Lynch, SHoKE Partnership Facilitator, said of the programme: “I am very proud of the work of SHoKE and our students. Anglia Ruskin University is focused on contributing to the social wellbeing of our region and our students commitment to community is second to none. With the guidance and support of professional teams (such as the Analytics & Data Science team at Essex County Council) our students apply their knowledge and expertise to the key regional issues identified by our partners - working together to bring benefit to everyone involved.”
Collaborations such as these provide great exposure to students in understanding the demands and pressures facing local government and a chance for their work to have real social impact. And in return we gained a fresh perspective on our current approach to service design and delivery. We’re delighted to be continuing our partnership with the SHoKE programme, with more projects to follow in the coming months. So, watch this space!