If your project tackles an issue in your community, there is likely to be research published which shows how others have tackled the same issue elsewhere. This research may shape your own approach or back up a request for funds or support.
However, there may not be research about something you need to know, or you might need to test out an idea for a new food and health activity. So, you may well need to carry out your own research at some point.
What is research?
Research can be an exploration of a topic, such as food culture, or to gain more understanding about the training needs of community food initiatives.
Research can also be practice-based. For instance, it might be used to determine the number of customers a grocery delivery service has, the price of fruit and vegetables or the most popular recipe to be made in a cookery session.
The findings of a piece of research may then be acted on.
It is important to know what you want to learn from any piece of research, and how you might use the findings, before you start.
Why is research important?
Ultimately, research is carried out to further our knowledge and understanding, so that we can learn how to address issues effectively.
For example, we might want to know more about the food choices made by young people within a community and why they make these choices. These findings could be used to plan activities that would encourage and support young people to make healthier choices.
Or, we might want to know whether planned activities will work. For example, a community food initiative might plan to run cookery skills sessions within their local area but they do not know the best approach. They may choose to do a piece of research to explore what activities would be popular, when might be a good time, where a good location would be and who might be interested in taking part.
By using research we can make evidence informed decisions, which help to make sure, as much as possible, that what we do is effective. However, it is also important to evaluate all our activities to determine if activities have gone to plan, the difference they have made and what learning has been gained.
Who does research?
Within the community food and health sector everyone can be doing in research. Community-led action research is one example of how communities can take on their own research projects.
Research is also done by larger organisations such as Community Food and Health (Scotland), Centre for Public Health Nutrition Research, Scottish Government, NHS Health Scotland, Food Standards Scotland (FSS), Glasgow Centre for Population Health, universities, and many others.
Some organisations may chose to pay an independent researcher to carry out the work on their behalf.
Where to go for more information
- Scottish Community Development Centre: works with communities to design research projects, and has published:
- Action Research by, in and for Communities (ARC): a practical guide to community-led action research
- Fruitful participation: this publication about participatory appraisal highlights some research techniques that are engaging and encourage participation (CFHS 2007)
- The Knowledge Network: an NHS Education for Scotland website with a range of resources about evidence, information, e-learning, and community tools
- Measurement: guidance on research methodology and analysis (Research Methods Knowledge Base)
- The Participation Toolkit: resources on participation (Scottish Health Council)
Some CFHS research
- The nature and extent of food poverty/insecurity in Scotland (CFHS 2015)
- A review of practical cooking skills activities ... (CFHS 2015)
- The impact of community cookery skills activities on families – a comparison between three different approaches (CFHS 2013)
- Report on research into community cafés in Scotland (CFHS 2011)
- Impact of the economic downturn for CFHS conference delegates and the communities they work with (CFHS 2010)
- Mapping Exercise of Third Sector Food and Health Initiatives with Minority Ethnic Communities (CFHS 2010)
- The Missing Ingredients: practice, policy and impact: food, health and homelessness in Scotland (CFHS 2009)
Other useful research
- Understanding food culture in Scotland and its comparison in an international context: implications for policy development (NHS Health Scotland)
- NHS Health Scotland research reports
- Food Standards Agency research reports
- Scottish Household Survey aims to provide representative information about the behaviour of Scottish Households, both nationally and at local authority level