Operating and Evaluating University Hubs: The Case of Sheffield

”Universities will have to work towards better understanding the complexities of evaluating co-production with communities, in order to navigate the balance between imagining long-term visions and short-term solutions whilst maintaining academic rigour.”

(UEL Report Summary Operating and Evaluating University Hubs: The Case of Sheffield)

In the context of UEL the majority of such co-production collaborations is taking place in ‘local hubs’, i.e. physical spaces in the city and outside the University where students and local people can develop knowledge together about the past, present and future of neighbourhoods. The use of local hubs is a key research method across all UEL partners, and UEL:SHEF is employing both a permanent, city centre-based local hub ‘Live Works’ and temporary local hubs in a selected area in Sheffield – Burngreave. Literature and evidence have shown that we need a more nuanced understanding of the impacts of such ‘local hubs’, develop an evaluating system that can evolve and be flexible, and that can record data in many forms. This report introduces the operation and potential ways of evaluating the impact of activities made through the ‘central hub’ Live Works and its ‘satellite hubs’ in Burngreave at an adventure playground, a library and a supermarket, amongst others. UEL collaborations with communities have enabled us to form close connections between teaching and research – two academic activities that are often disconnected within the institution. Involvement of students as co-researchers, who bring their own capacity and skills of conducting research, has been a valuable learning experience for the research team as well as the students. We are revisiting and changing methods as we encounter gaps in the process. With the aim of developing urban capacity and new networks, the activities related to the operation of these hubs are: students’ work done through Live Projects and Studio in Residence, interviews and surveys conducted by students in communities, PhD candidate Tom Moore’s research on long-term evaluation of Live Projects, and the ongoing research done by the UEL:SHEF team through mapping, interviewing, and building connections with Sheffield-based Communities and Organisations. 

As part of Work Package 3: ‘Operating and Evaluating University Hubs’, UEL:SHEF team compiled a report, communicating their work through ‘deep dives’ in Sheffield. Summary Report can be viewed and downloaded from the following link:

Summary Report OPERATING AND EVALUATING UNIVERSITY HUBS: The case of Sheffield (July 2020)

The report consists of two parts. In Part 1: OPERATING, we outline and illustrate the operation of Sheffield School of Architecture (SSoA) Local Hub, Live Works. The City Centre Hub has currently been in operation since 2018 in its most recent location in Sheffield, on The Moor shopping  street (formerly it was located on Union Street between 2014-2016), accompanied by a number of satellite hubs in the area of Pitsmoor/Burngreave – an area North-west of Sheffield city centre, which has been identified as the focus area for UEL’s research (October 2018 – ongoing). 

Part 2: EVALUATING, looks into more depth about how to evaluate the impact of activities done by or with community groups and organisations. Identifying the main challenges and limitations of current evaluation practices, we then consulted our research network and relevant literature to address gaps and highlight potential suggestions on best ways to evaluate the impact of university hubs. This part of the report focuses on various ways in which to approach evaluation and how to set up an individualised evaluation framework that could capture the full array of consequences of collaborations: tangible/quantifiable, intangible/qualitative, the t relationships that are formed, and the long-term evolution of mutual knowledge transfer and community capacity building.

The report concludes in a practical set of transferable findings based on our research, and with reflections on the opportunities and challenges encountered by our working with local hubs throughout the research project.