Fieldnotes: widening participation and organisational learning

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Our Fair Access Research project concentrates on the idea of learning and working together to transform higher education. We are interested in how widening participation works differently in different institutions.

With this in mind, Maggie Hutchings and Alex Wardrop have been doing some fieldwork with colleagues in the north of England and would like to share some of their reflections on the process.

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We were a little apprehensive and very humbled to be meeting a group of dedicated widening participation experts and enthusiasts we didn’t know, in a place that wasn’t familiar to us.

During our focus group workshop we wanted to create a caring atmosphere where everyone felt comfortable enough to share, reflect honestly and open a rich conversation about complex issues. Any anxieties we had were soon dispelled by friendliness and laughter. The good humour and kindness from the group helped people share very honest, at times moving feelings and experiences.

We spoke a lot about how the ideas and ideals of widening participation can be mobilised to reach and build communities. But we also addressed what can get in the way of it and what can derail widening participation from working for those who are marginalised by the complex structures of power that persist in society.

“I wasn’t surprised I was just vexed”

This was how one of the participant’ framed their response to an academic’s perceptions of a student from a widening participation background.

We did have some (mis)adventures with our recording equipment, but were able to capture the breadth and depth of a expansive and generous discussion about the very real challenges facing all those working in the area of widening participation.

Over the coming months we will analyse the data and keep sharing what we are learning from all of our colleagues.

You can join us in this collective reflection and learning exercise by contributing to our survey. For more information about the organisational learning project, email Maggie on mhutchings@bournemouth.ac.uk

For more information about BU’s innovative Fair Access Research, email the Principal Investigators, Dr Vanessa Heaslip (vheaslip@bournemouth.ac.uk) and Dr Clive Hunt (chunt@bournemouth.ac.uk).

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