Tim Crabtree

I am an MPhil/PhD Candidate with Transtechnology Research at Plymouth University, via the Schumacher Research-in Action node.

The focus of my inquiry is social innovation in affordable housing. The context is a deepening crisis, which is impacting young people, families on low incomes and others unable to afford secure accommodation. The research will be practice-based, linked to action research undertaken with Wessex Community Assets, an organisation which I co-founded and work for part-time. Wessex works across Devon, Dorset and Somerset to support community groups wishing to lead the development of affordable housing projects. My own role is to explore the potential for innovative approaches such as community self-build, refurbishment, co-housing and co-operatives.

The research project aims to explore the effect of convening a heterogeneous combination of actors from the community, the construction professions and from the craft and creative sector. It is proposed that this convening process can have a catalytic effect which will lead to innovative approaches being developed. A small number of practical projects will be developed, as a focus for this convening and catalysing process. The process will be narrated with the intention of disclosing the key elements, in order to influence the work of practitioners and the future allocation of resources within the affordable housing sector.

Overall, the aim is to make a contribution more broadly to understanding the emergence of new practice in the sphere of social innovation, in a complex field where political/economic/ethical/ ecological issues, opportunities and constraints are tightly enmeshed, and where individualistic, “expert” and rationalistic approaches dominate the field.

I bring a critical interest in the firming up of form in the context of social innovation – whether working with materials and making in the context of housing, or with people. The research is informed by relational, process-focused theories of social construction in complex responsive processes of relating.  These are all approaches that bring attention to the experienceof communicative action, in particular the enabling and constraining dimensions of power relating within organisations themselves (e.g. the role of “experts”) and also with the context they sit within (partnerships, relationships with community members, the policy landscape, etc.)

I expect to develop a multi-voiced narrative approach which relates critical scenes, episodes and incidents as they enfold, and not only in retrospect. This will foreground reflexivity, and I will attempt to reveal the ongoing dialogical practices in which complex phenomena, meaningful to all involved (e.g. entities, activities, roles, outcomes and identities) are contested, formed, sustained and transformed, seeking to perceive the complexity of the situation, including stabilities and instabilities, cultural norms and uncertainties; and seeking to perceive the enabling and constraining factors at play and where openings for new innovation might lie.