The Highlands and Islands Climate Change Community Grant, funded by UKRI and delivered by the British Science Association and Science Ceilidh, awarded nine community organisations with funding of up to £5,000 to run community-led projects related to climate change, realised through collaboration with a researcher. The projects ran between April to October 2022.  

Green Hive was awarded a grant to work with an independent researcher to explore the impact of the charity’s work to date and identify new project areas which address the ideas and concerns of local people with regards to the Nairnshire environment. 

Here we find out more about the project, how the community and the researcher adapted their project to measure impact in a different way and how their community-researcher collaboration helped to build local research skills and capacity.   

This case study was prepared by Heather Mendick, Independent Research Consultant, who conducted in-depth interviews with eight community organisers and eight researchers as part of an independent evaluation of the Highlands and Islands Climate Change Community Grant scheme. 

Green Hive logo

About Green Hive 

Green Hive is a charity in Nairn, a town of around 10,000 people in the Scottish Highlands, close to Inverness. The charity brings people together to improve local green spaces and have engaged around 10% of Nairn’s population as volunteers since launching in 2015. 

The project: Understanding the impact of activities on the local community and environment 

Sign on a table asking people to share their thoughts on local climate change concerns in Nairn

Green Hive’s Chief Operations Officer, Neil Mapes, describes the starting point for Green Hive’s project as a “need to know more about the impact that we’re making locally.”  

They identified three community and three environmental impacts they wanted to achieve and sought to collaborate with a researcher who could use their existing data to measure their performance on each of these.  

When they could not find a researcher to provide the metrics they had hoped for, they redesigned the project with freelance researcher Dr Louise Senior to instead create case studies and stories that show the impact of their work on the Nairnshire environment.  

Louise trained a group of seven volunteers in research skills and guided them through the process of designing and carrying out a qualitative interview study of volunteers’ motivations for and experiences of working with Green Hive.  

Louise started with the basics of interviewing and skills practice, then moved to research planning, more training, doing the interviews and analysing the data. At this point, those who were confident readers coded the data. The others chose pictures for posters and words to project onto the wall at a showcase event at which they communicated the findings from the research to the wider Green Hive community and trustees. 

Louise believes the research skills, capacity and confidence gained by volunteers throughout the project will positively impact the work of Green Hive on local green spaces in the future. She said: 

Rather than simply carrying out a one-off piece of research for the organisation, I’m sharing my knowledge and experience with their volunteers which leads to more equitable and sustainable outcomes all round. Firstly, it provides a range of skills for the volunteers that they will be able to use in other areas of their life; secondly, it provides a bank of research-competent volunteers for Green Hive to draw on in the future; and finally, because the research is community-led rather than researcher-led, its findings should be of direct benefit to Green Hive and the research participants.

Successful collaborations are based on openness and sharing 

Woman with short grey hair wearing a hoodie and a backpack standing up and looking at a display

Neil contrasts the success of Green Hive’s collaboration with Louise with “a couple of failures where people just haven’t produced things we wanted.” He ascribes this difference to Louise putting in the time needed to get to know Green Hive.  

Being local, she had “a good opportunity to see our activities which is often a deal breaker for us. We’ve had researchers in the past and … they don’t really understand us because they haven’t witnessed the activities.” 

Faced with Green Hive’s original proposal to develop impact metrics, Louise remembers her initial meeting with Neil and Green Hive trustee Sean Lusk: “I left that meeting thinking I clearly can’t work with Green Hive, I can’t do the research that they want to do, and I said that to them.”  

Neil and Sean decided to rework the proposal with Louise in order to look qualitatively, not quantitatively, at their impact. They valued Louise’s commitment to getting to know Green Hive and her “personal style” over a capacity to provide “the thing we were looking to get from this research.” They have no regrets. She has “gone above and beyond to make sure that the project’s gone well in a way a staff member might.”  

Neil suggests that the different way that Louise relates to Green Hive compared to other researchers is “because she’s independent. … She’s not constrained by the operational procedures and templates and you know, ethics committees and things that university departments might be.” Louise agrees; her colleagues at institutions told her that not having funding for their time is “completely impossible for us.”   

Successful community projects focus on process over end products 

Reflecting on why she wanted to work with Green Hive and what she’s learnt, Louise explains:  

Green Hive really is inclusive. No matter what your skills and abilities are, if you want to be involved, they’ll find a way to do it. So I was interested in that approach. I think probably I learnt more in this project than I have in years. It’s been really challenging and really frustrating and learning how to manage all that, … about how to make actually really difficult concepts accessible. … I’m quite good at being process-focused more than task-focused but also I do really like to get the job done. And this has made me be much more process focused. … It’s been about slowing way, way down and thinking about the process and what people are getting out of it rather than saying we have to have a really good piece of research.

Neil feels that with academics, “there’s this language that talks around supporting participants, … but actually once you’re finished and you’ve got your research data, you probably don’t engage with them again … Louise is much more friendly and down to earth and is interested in the people themselves over and above the research questions and task.”  

As a result, the 200-volunteer hours on this project produced findings which Louise says “will help Green Hive to think about what they’re offering and how they’re offering it and how that supports people to act on climate change.”  

Volunteers also compiled a three-page ‘future ideas’ project document, which is being discussed by the Green Hive team. Neil said:  

They’re empowered now and they know more about the organisation and they know why people benefit and they’re energised by spreading that benefit.

One woman wearing a woolly hat outside talking with two older women in coats

Focusing on the participants, Louise says that the “personal changes are huge.” She mentions one peer researcher who, due to communication difficulties, hasn’t always found it easy to be involved in projects in the past, “so I think she’s enjoyed that she’s been included and given tasks to do that she can do. … People have mentioned to her that they can understand what she’s saying much better since she’s taken part … and that she’s developed much more patience”. When asked to use one word to describe the project, this volunteer said “patience. 

The project helped build community post-COVID. Reflecting on their experience of the project, one participant said: “I’ll remember sitting round this table with a lovely group of people. The first time I’ve sat round the table in this way for probably two years because of the COVID situation.” Another added: “I feel as though I’ve made a genuine friendship, but in different ways and on different levels.” 

Successful community-researcher collaborations build capacity 

As well as Louise’s commitment to getting to know Green Hive, Neil and Sean chose to work with her because “there was some future sustainability angle” to what she was offering. As a result, “we have seven volunteers that are skilled in conducting research”, a new “volunteer researcher” role, and “we’re already looking at what those volunteers can do next.”  

The group have ideas for new research projects, for example, to find out who does and does not cycle and why and what the community wants from a local space that is being developed by Green Hive as a community hub.  

For participants new to research, the project gave them not just skills but an understanding of what research can be and can do.  

One participant reflects that, “it changed my mind about qualitative research. … It was just so much more interesting, truly, than I thought, and whilst you cannot pinpoint absolutely everything, you can get an overall view of things.”  

A participant with research experience found it “really interesting … to see that people who had never done any research and were really scared about it … and unfamiliar, you can still get really good data from that, like really nice stories. … We can all just do this. We don't have to go like, we've got to do classes for three years before we can interview anyone” 

To build capacity, researchers need a generosity and humility about their skills.  

Louise suggests that this citizen social science approach could be more successful than using professional researchers affiliated with universities or research societies because of institutional blocks and cultures that prioritises researchers’ agendas over those of communities.  

You should get more youth workers and community workers involved and train them to do research and then get them to lead their communities. Because they would love that. … With a lot of social science, you don’t need to have a PhD to do a good job of it. You can actually be taught those skills reasonably quickly and then take them out into your community.

Find out what’s next for the Highlands and Islands Climate Change Community Grant