Future of the Open Call for Research

by Amelia Byrne and Suzanne Perry, Research Officers at Power to Change


The next phase of Power to Change

2020 has been a turbulent year for all, and it’s been no different here at Power to Change. The increased need to support community businesses during this time has been paramount, and, as our key mission, Power to Change has made some structural changes to ensure we’re around to support community businesses for longer. Power to Change was previously planning to close in 2022, but these new changes will allow us to continue on until 2025, albeit in a reduced capacity.

In recognising the need to support community businesses as the world recovers from Covid-19, every part of Power to Change has had the painful job of reviewing budgets and making tough decisions. One such decision is the closure of our popular Open Call for Research programme. We’re sad to see the departure of this programme with the exciting and varied research topics proposed and opportunities it has given us to make connections with a wide range of researchers.

The decision to close this programme does not mean the end of research funded by Power to Change; as we look towards the next phase, we’re planning upcoming research commissions and possibly ad hoc grant funding for research relevant to future priorities. The focus of the Research Institute since its inception in 2015 has been to learn more about the community business sector and fund high-quality research which helps to make the case for community businesses. In this next phase of Power to Change, we intend to continue this path and hope that researchers interested in the Open Call will be interested in our other research opportunities.

Over the last four years, the Open Call programme has produced vital insight and learnings that we have carried through into our thinking. As this programme has come to a close, it feels like the right time to reflect on the great work produced throughout it.

Reflecting on the Open Call for Research programme

The Open Call for Research was set up in 2016 to democratise research funding in this field. It has enabled those within or close to community businesses to propose research ideas that directly meet their current needs or benefit the wider sector. Over the course of the programme, Power to Change has funded 17 research projects, totalling over £550,000 investment in community business sector research – something we’re very proud to have done.

It is to the credit of the community business research community that over the years Power to Change has received hundreds of high quality of proposals, funded a diverse range of projects and most importantly, many of these have made a positive impact to communities.

For example, one of the Open Call’s early grantees, the Heseltine Institute at the University of Liverpool, researched Growth, sustainability and purpose in the community business market in the Liverpool City Region. Power to Change hosted a bustling launch event for the report in spring 2018 attended by the city’s mayor, head of the Local Economic Partnership, Liverpool Combined Authority and community businesses. Discussions at the event catalysed lots of strategic and market development work in the city region which recognised the integrity of the social economy to the area and has culminated in Kindred – a brand new social investment platform funded by Power to Change and Liverpool Combined Authority.

All of this was bolstered by other Open Call funded projects which shone more light on the community business sector the Liverpool City Region: Centre for Local Economic Strategies’ (CLES) looked at the inclusivity of the sector in deprived communities in south Liverpooland the role of anchor institutions in supporting the community businesses. In addition Liverpool University researchers conducted a rich ethnographic study of SAFE Regeneration – a stalwart community hub in the Bootle area of the city.

Open Call grantees have also helped Power to Change understand community-led health and social care – a key strategic priority for us not least because improved health and wellbeing is consistently the most commonly reported impact area for community businesses. For example the New Economic Foundation’s case study research looked at the role of community business in sustainable social care,Social Enterprise UK and Middlesex University identified the myriad benefits (including easing pressure on the NHS) of supporting community-led health and wellbeing services and What Works Centre for Wellbeing explored. These valuable pieces of evidence compliment other research commissioned by Power to Change and feed into our health and social care community of practice. This group are at the forefront of taking community-led health and social care from the margins to the mainstream.

In addition to the above, Open Call grantees have helped Power to Change gain a greater understanding of community business finance. One such example includes Co-operatives UK’s work around Understanding a maturing community shares market. This research uncovered the extent of success within community shares; since 2012, £155 million has been raised by over 103,000 people to save and create more than 440 vital spaces and services.

Furthermore, our Open Call funding has attracted international attention. The well regarded Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands used sophisticated analysis techniques to identify conditions for durability in community businesses in England.

Still to come

But the show is not quite over – several fascinating Open Call funded research projects are yet to be published. Keep your eyes peeled for these in the New Year;

  • findings about local rootedness and its importance in community asset transfer;
  • new knowledge around community business’ capacity to provide good working environments against the odds;
  • and foundational infrastructure within social economies;
  • deep dives into volunteering within the community business sector.


For those interested in the Open Call for research and those who have been involved over the years, we thank you. The contributions of the research are far reaching and impressive. This post points to a number of outputs, but please do take a look on our publications page for more community business sector insight.

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