Report from the network launch event
Time4Research: launch of the time bank research network, London 14th October 2011
By Ruth Naughton-Doe and Lee Gregory
About Time banks
Time banking is a tool where participants are paid in time for the reciprocal exchange of skills and services in both community and institutional settings. It is a mechanism which is perceived to generate other impacts such as reducing social exclusion, generating social capital and facilitating co-production. The idea has attracted significant attention from both New Labour and the Conservative government in the context of increasing policy interest in decentralisation, active citizenship and the third sector/community-led provision of services. This interest has strengthened with the advent of the ‘Big Society’ agenda, and several time banking projects have recently been awarded substantial funding packages.
The time bank research network was established to bring together the increasing number of academics who are currently researching, or interested in researching, time banks. Organised by two PhD students who are both members of the SPA, Ruth Naughton-Doe from the University of Bristol, and Lee Gregory from Cardiff University, the launch event sought to act as a platform for the promotion and development of this new research network: Time4Research.
The role of the network
Why is this network necessary? Firstly, for an intervention that has been established since 1985, there are surprisingly few high quality time banking evaluations. Most time bank research is out of date, anecdotal or in-house, and as such lacks sufficient rigour to appeal to funders and policy makers. It is therefore hoped the network can stimulate the production of good quality research. Additionally, navigating existing time banking literature presents challenges as the literature is both scattered and diverse and has not previously been brought together. The network intends to provide an accessible resource by bringing current research together in one location. The intention is to make it easier for academics interested in time banking or policy makers to find research evidence.
In the context of increasing policy interest in time banking, it is especially important to maintain a relationship between current time banking evidence and time banking practice to allow for rapid knowledge exchange. The network aims to bring together evaluations, conclusions and policy proposals together in one location to create a vital resource for policy makers and practitioners to find answers to pressing questions in the field.
Aims of the Group
Whilst the group started with this small event for academics, it is a long term aim to expand. Firstly, the group wishes to include practitioners of time banking in the UK such as service commissioners and think tanks. Contact has been made with the University of East Anglia about the possibility of a wider event in the future which will involve organisations such as the New Economics Foundation (nef) and NESTA, who are both providing information for the Cabinet Office on time banking. Ultimately, the group wishes to expand world-wide as time banking is an international movement operating in over 60 countries.
Presentations at the event
Lee Gregory from Cardiff University opened the event and welcomed attendees. He outlined his own research which highlights the importance of time banking research in the current political climate. He explained the possibility that both left and right on the political spectrum could adopt time banking, as it was established to be ideologically neutral. As such, he argued we need to understand the political motives that underpin time banking. Additionally, whilst evaluations make claims of what time banking can do, what is less clear is how time banking achieves these claims. What is it about time banking that generates inclusion and social networks? Does this only work in some policy contexts? Do the effects vary in different policy contexts? Does it actually generate co-production, as time bank founder Edgar Cahn argues? Increasing political attention on these issues make these questions important.
Ruth Naughton-Doe from the University of Bristol, School for Policy Studies then presented an overview of time banking research to date and suggested a research agenda. She discussed the multitude of terminology, models, provider organisations and range of theories found in the literature. The overall standard of the empirical research into time banking is low, and much of the theoretical literature deals with contested concepts such as social capital, co-production and community with an uncritical lens. There is therefore a great need for high quality research to discuss the different models, outcomes and theories underpinning time banking.
Noel Longhurst from the University of East Anglia then presented on time banking and the wider currency movement. He discussed the spread of time banking across the world and argued that the different models are constantly evolving. He also contextualised time banking in broader social movements, including the green movement, the complementary currency movement and those arguing for monetary reform.
After these introductory presentations, the attendees had an informal discussion around their own interests in time banking and their expectations about how the research network could work.
The event was attended by 18 people, including postgraduates, established academics and researchers from nef. To highlight a few of the participants, Mayumi Hashami at the University of East Anglia recently completed a PhD which explored the history of social care provision for the elderly in Japan, including applications of time banking. Patrick Tobi from the University of East London also attended to discuss his interest in conducting experimental research into the health outcomes of time banks based in GP Practices.
The event was also attended by four postgraduate students currently completing PhDs on time banking. Lee Gregory from Cardiff University, is doing action research into time banking, co-production and health. Olivia Pearson, also at the Cardiff, is exploring ways in which time banking can be used within the field of youth justice. Ruth Naughton-Doe, University of Bristol, is doing participatory research into the outcomes of time banking. Julia Panther, University of Durham has conducted anthropological research into reciprocity and network analysis of time bank participants to see how cooperation has evolved. It was a great opportunity for the postgraduates to meet and share experiences and they discussed the possibility of submitting an abstract for a symposium to the SPA conference in 2012.
Contemporary issues in time banking research
The network then engaged in a lively discussion of contemporary issues in time banking research. A discussion of the problems of conducting research in the field highlighted some shared experiences, including the problems of working in the context of the fast paced evolution of the time banking mechanism. Furthermore, several participants had experienced their research sites closing down as time banks have high failure rates, which makes managing research sites difficult. Another problem raised was that several ‘successful’ time banks have been over researched and there was a consensus in the room that new case study sites should be sought to avoid research fatigue.
The group then turned to a discussion of possible important research areas. A popular interest in the room emerged through a conversation on how the concept of co-production was at risk through policy makers ignoring the value base of time banking. There was a sense that policy makers have been distracted by the mechanism whilst ignoring the theoretical underpinnings of co-production. Another discussion was held over the need for a comparative study into different types of time banks to establish why some are so successful and others fail.
Future of the network
The event closed with a conversation about the future of the network. It was agreed the network would be website run, with a JiscMail mailing list and annual meetings. Members will be invited to upload profiles and will collectively establish a resources section. A news blog will be updated regularly, and members will be invited to submit themed contributions or think-pieces in their area of expertise around time banking.
We hope to expand internationally and work towards an academic time banking conference in 2013. Additionally, Noel Longhurst, who co-edits the International Journal of Community Currency Research suggested the possibility of a special issue showcasing current time banking research. Timebanking UK are interested in supporting a Time4Research network session at their annual conference to disseminate findings to practitioners.
The event was felt a success, and was a great opportunity for academics with similar interests in this emerging field to meet for the first time. It marks the start of an exciting new research group which aims to connect time banking research with policy makers and practitioners and provide a forum for discussing current research needs. With thanks to the Social Policy Association for funding the event, and to Timebanking UK and NESTA for providing the room space.
Originally published in Policy World, the magazine of the SPA.