Creating Opportunities for Engagement: Exploring the relationship between the Burren landscape and civil society


Creating Opportunities for Engagement: Exploring the relationship between the Burren landscape and civil society

Project Synopsis

Participatory Action Research (PAR) design steers this project, delivering outputs that respond to the broader needs of academic knowledge, civil society and community forums. Focusing on the Burren region, the research examines the role civil society organisations (CSOs), Burrenbeo Trust, plays in encouraging engagement across communities and with this unique landscape.


This project critically responds to the under-researched, complex and varied intersections between the landscape, communities and CSOs – investigating questions of community agency within the landscape and recognising opportunities for enhanced wellbeing. It also delivers original and innovative insights into building strong community-university relationships. (Research on-going).

Burrenbeo Trust: ;

Burrenbeo Conservation Volunteers;

Burrenbeo Trust is a membership charity, running over 50 programmes engaging multiple communities across the Burren, Ireland and abroad.

For the purpose of this research the following Burrenbeo Trust communities were engaged with directly:

  • Annual Members (of the CSO);
  • Life Members (of the CSO) ;
  • Lapsed Members (of the CSO);
  • Heritage Walk attendees (engaged with programmes and from the general public);
  • Tea Talk attendees (engaged with programmes and from the general public).
  • Participatory Action Research – the researcher acted as Community Engagement Officer for Burrenbeo Trust for the duration of the project’s fieldwork (reflecting the ethos of PAR). During this time, she engaged with numerous communities through the collaborative implementation and design of numerous programmes and events (13 months);
  • Reflective fieldwork journaling (95);
  • Biographical Narrative Interpretive Method (BNIM) – this data rich interviewing method considers the life stories of participants and is based on trust and a process of building rapport which was established in the field. Interviews are solely guided by the participants and were conducted with members of the volunteer community (12 in total);
  • Semi-structured interviews were conducted with the engaged Burrenbeo Trust community of communities (40);
  • Video Walkabouts: This participatory method was used to gain an insight into the perspective of the CSO on community engagement and the Burren landscape (6).

The outputs are as follows:

  • Community Dissemination: monthly newsletters (7);
  • Community lecture series (6);
  • Community Reports (2);
  • International academic conference presentation and attendance (5);
  • Whitaker lunchtime lecture series; Local and national media coverage (Connemara Radio, Clare FM, Irish Times, Clare People, Clare Champion; Connacht Tribune).
  • Preparation for three academic papers and a PhD thesis.

The outcomes are as follows:

Through engagement, the project has seen:

  • The successful delivery of Ireland’s first Wellbeing and Conservation conference attended by delegates from all over Ireland and Europe;
  • A shift in focus for volunteerism in the Burren, with more emphasis placed on the societal and community wellbeing benefits of engagement with conservation practices (as well as the environmental impacts);
  • Successful engagement as a practice-based research participant, supporting the development of many Burrenbeo Trust programmes and the collaborative redesign of a new mission statement and focus for the organisation;
  • An open and transparent platform for community feedback on specific Burrenbeo programmes, of which findings were compiled and presented in a detailed report. This extensive report was used as a springboard for future planning of the organisation and was also fed back to the community whom engaged with it;
  • All research findings are disseminated to the organisation and through their communication platforms, in addition to the community themselves.
  • The culmination of these activities are feeding into an IRC Postgraduate Scholarship Funded PhD project due for completion in 2019.


  • Human Capacity
  • Health and Wellbeing
  • Societal Engagement
  • Environmental
  • New Knowledge

National University of Ireland Galway (NUIG)

Funding Source:

Irish Research Council of Ireland and Burrenbeo Trust

Academic Contact:

Primary Researcher: Elaine Williams


Research Supervisory Team: Dr Kathy Reilly

Dr Frances Fahy