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Following preliminary participatory workshops and 1:1 conversations with experts by experience, I have now mapped out the project’s fieldwork strategy more clearly. The data collection approach is driven by wanting to put inclusion and participation at its centre. I will revise and refine the approach iteratively as the project progresses.
For now, there are two components, and a ‘set up phase’ where the participant receives a welcome pack and has an opening interview discussion with the researcher:
Component 1) ‘Little and often’ where remote forms of communication are used for regular 1:1 data collection. Elicitation includes specific questions as well as invitations for open ended responses. The format is individual adapted interviews, designed in discussion with each participant – it might involve whatsapp messages, phone calls, voice notes, or photos.
Component 2) ‘Deep dive’ where group-based workshops or focus group style discussion and activities are held to draw out research conclusions and policy recommendations. The deep dive discussions are informed by the ‘little and often’ data. In person and online version will be offered, and there will be the option of asynchronous online participation.
Each component of data collection will feed forward to inform the focus of future components. Participants will also be asked directly about what topics should be included and how.
Last week I ran the first methods workshops for my British Academy project. Working with people with experience of the benefits system, and many with experience of peer research at Toynbee Hall. We were exploring: How can we improve the way we do qual research on the benefits system; What are we missing with our current business as usual approaches?
Plenty to reflect on, lots of important challenges. Some early thoughts:
The PRIVACY—SOLIDARITY tension. Research on sensitive topics make privacy concerns paramount for participants. At the same time, there is huge potential benefit to the recognition and solidarity that comes from different types of group work.
‘Different strokes for different folks’ as one participant put it. There is a need for methodological pluralism to ensure inclusive practice. Remote; reactive; bitesize; multimodal all offer promising ways of including groups traditionally excluded from research.
Taking TRUST seriously. Trust when researching social security benefits is about trusting the researcher, both in the immediate interaction and in how the research is used and represented. It’s also about fear of surveillance from authorities, and exposing oneself in ways that might affect financial life.
Ensuring ACTION. The outcome of research, and some form of guarantee that it will make a difference in the world, is a crucial motivator (even ethical imperative) for participating. Participants challenged the traditional steps of the research process where the outcomes remain undetermined.
RECOMPENSE for participation is key. Being thanked and recognised for one’s time financially is crucial. Acceptable amounts hovered around £20/hour. There is widespread concern about payment affecting benefit eligibility – there must be up front explanations of this by researcher.