Refreshing perspectives: peer research with people who have multiple needs

Thursday, 2 June 2016 - 12:54pm

New research from Revolving Doors sheds light on the practicalities, ethics and opportunities presented by peer research.

Back in November Revolving Doors hosted a seminar on peer research. The presenters prompted a really great discussion and, inevitably, when the seminar ended people wanted to know more.

Academics and voluntary sector professionals alike raised complex questions, such as ethics, and how peer research could be done with different groups. Meanwhile, when talking to peer researchers about their experiences, we realised there are ways to do it well and meaningfully, and there are also some legitimate frustrations about tokenistic or poorly managed approaches.

We decided to review a number of papers about peer research and write-ups of peer research projects. We selected these through calls for papers, database searches and drawing on the experience of organisations such as Groundswell.

We were flexible about where and who these papers came from, but kept a focus on peer research carried out by people who have multiple needs. These included people with experience of rough sleeping, repeat offending and street based sex work.

We wanted to understand how peer research can contribute to our wider goal of reviewing and building the evidence-base on multiple needs. We were also interested in the process of carrying out peer research, which we focus on more than the findings of peer research studies.

What we found

The findings of our review range from abstract ideas such as who creates knowledge to practical considerations, such as helping people stay involved when they are juggling multiple, urgent demands on their time.

There was a strong theme of power and breaking down divisions between those conducting the studies and those being studied. Professional researchers often considered the experts in the room need to be willing to challenge their own preconceptions and give up their authority in order for peer researchers to be able to genuinely participate as equals.

We found that peer researchers can be involved in different ways:

  • Deciding the overall research question, to ensure that research focuses on important, yet underexplored areas.
  • Interviewing study participants: many argue that this brings about a richer more in-depth research interview, with the right training.
  • Analysing data, although some of the projects we reviewed noted this was challenging perhaps because it requires a high level of literacy.
  • Recommendations and promoting findings: an important part of the peer research process is using the results to make positive change for people who often have difficult experiences.

What’s missing?

A considerable gap in the peer research literature is a review of the process by peers themselves.

A few of the papers were written by peer researchers, but some did not include peer researchers’ views, even indirectly. Revolving Doors will address this gap with a forthcoming collection of peer research case studies reviewed by members of our Forum.

Over the next year, we also plan to publish a series of resources to help people successfully implement peer research projects.

Download the review here or email us about our peer research work.

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Lucy Terry

Research and Development Officer

Lucy is Research and Development Officer at Revolving Doors Agency, working for better systems and services for people with multiple and complex needs.