Fieldnotes 2: widening participation and organisational learning


Our Fair Access Research project explores the potential of learning and working together to transform higher education. We are interested in finding ways to connect different spheres of widening participation work within — and across — different institutions.

With this in mind, Maggie Hutchings and Alex Wardrop undertook a second lot of fieldwork with colleagues in the north of England and would like to share some of their reflections on the process.


After a busy week of interviews with colleagues from a whole host of different organisations, we feel really humbled by the passion and expertise of everyone we met. People took the time to reflect and share their experiences honestly and thoughtfully.

One of the things that emerged in all the discussions was just how rooted the work of widening participation is in people’s experiences and feelings. Widening participation is emerging as emotional work.

 It is an emotional labour which sees personal stories intersect with and sometimes rub up against complex economic and political landscapes.

One of the colleagues we interviewed made it clear that as a sector we need to remember that we are dealing with people, with potentially very vulnerable people.

“We have to remember they are just kids. Not numbers. But kids”.

We are going to spend the next few months analyisng the data and thinking through some of the tensions people the personal and the political which have been emerging in the discussions.

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

For more information about BU’s innovative Fair Access Research, email the Principal Investigators, Dr Vanessa Heaslip ( and Dr Clive Hunt (

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