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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.