ENCATC Young cultural Policy Researchers Forum: Comments & Reflections

It’s worth expressing at the offset that my experience overall at the ENCATC Young Cultural Policy Researchers Forum 2013 has been fantastic. A solid 9 out of 10. Perhaps ENCATC staff, friends, stakeholders etc. will be able to relax at this point in the knowledge that what follows will not be excessively critical or negative, but ultimately positive and celebratory – with perhaps a couple of observations which teeter on the edge of mild criticism – but only because perfect feedback serves little practical purpose and is annoying…

First and foremost, as a Brussels-virgin, the Frites and Leffe were exactly as I had dreamed. Many thanks to the French speaking among you who helped me meander the plethora of sides and sauces – I can’t apologies enough on behalf of an English education system that refuses to prioritise or encourage language learning to any respectable level. Someone once said that French words sound as if they are made of fine China; so dainty and delicate that they might shatter if handled incorrectly. I’m probably responsible for demolishing entire truckloads of crockery with my clumsy, blundering miss-pronunciations.

As you may now be aware, I am in my 2nd month of PhD study at the University of Leeds, UK. Before Brussels, my mind was brimming with a potent cocktail of fear, apprehension, excitement and expectation about the many months ahead, and that poison that plagues most who embark on self-directed research – self doubt. Having met, shared, exchanged and laughed with my new YCPR colleagues, most, if not all, of the negative emotions have dwindled, and all that remains is an overwhelming sense of urgency and excitement to do great cultural policy research.

This is testament not only to the other Young Cultural Policy Researchers (I’ll come on to you guys in a bit), but also to the hard work, organisation and skill of Elizabeth from ENCATC who handled the over-running debates, train strikes, late-arrivals and so on with professionalism, diplomacy and friendliness. Not forgetting Alejandra who often pointed us in the right direction, and whose presence I’m sure aided significantly in what was ultimately a smooth, relaxed and well-structured couple of days. Many thanks to the ENCATC team – those we met, and those we didn’t, all of whom I’m sure had a hand in this great event.

Our workshops – first on methodology and then on funding – inspired some interesting discussions between the group, and a constant back-and-forth of ideas and challenges to those ideas. This is both the reason for and value of diverse, curious and investigative collaborations. It’s this noise of voices and varied perspectives that we will continue to benefit from – so long as we are able to remain connected, open, curious and critical, our different backgrounds will only serve to enrich our research.

The first critique:

Why were we divided into groups based on the letter our surnames began with? It seemed a curious and random act that whilst not impeding our discussions massively, didn’t positively impact them either. I would suggest that grouping us based on our methodological approach/background for the methodology discussion would have ensured that the conversation brought about practical lessons, and actionable insight – rather than the general, critical, albeit interesting, debate that ensued. I didn’t learn anything about conducting better research or how to improve; I just had an interesting chat about methodology in general.

The second critique:

Why didn’t the grouping change for the second discussion? By not mixing us up, the networking potential was hindered I think.

The overriding ‘positive’ of my time in Brussels was without doubt meeting and engaging (there’s that word again - ‘value’ and ‘impact’ to follow shortly) with other people in my position or similar. I discovered through the YCPR Forum multiple interesting connections between my research and that of colleagues elsewhere in Europe and beyond, and the seeds of new ideas and future research have been sown. Surrounding yourself with thought-provoking research and researchers has significant, long-lasting value.

PhD’s are famously isolating endeavours, and the opportunity to create connections and common ground with other people – however disparate – will I’m sure be beneficial. None more immanently perhaps than Christiaan De Beukelaer who happens to share the same campus and city as me - it’s peculiar that we had to travel to Brussels to meet for the first time when his office is a 5 minute wander from mine. His presentation was a personal highlight for many reasons.

There are other people with whom I found particular resonance for whatever reason that need mentioning too - Eleonora Belfiore who’s book I’m halfway through (co-edited by a colleague at Leeds, as it happens), Anke (and her colleague Peter) from Edu-Cult who’s vast experiences from the applied research World kept me on my toes, Kate Mattocks my UK-based compadre sharing similar UK-institution related issues, Loes Veldpaus for blurring the lines between cultural policy and other sectors, Giancarlo Pichillo for some welcome critical thinking and passionate engagement, Dare Pejić who shares a common interest in digital communities and Tal Feder for knowing about the ‘Bristol Sound’ and for letting me waffle on and on about my favourite city. There are of course many more of you with whom I shared ideas and stories and by who I was inspired to work harder and smarter, but I can’t name everyone (We also shared some less desirable things - mango-jellied goats cheese?).

I am now aware of and connected to other emerging researchers in this field, and I’m convinced that our collective voice, each one championing cultural policy research in the broadest sense, will be collectively stronger, louder, and more impactful. I’m looking forward to next years Forum greatly, and hope that I’m lucky enough to attend again.

Many congratulations to Visnja Kisic for being the winner of the award this year - Like many of us I think, I’ll be keeping a keen eye on how the changes with the CPRA will take shape over the next 12 months and what this might mean for Young Cultural Policy Research.