Social science research investigates ‘topics’ that are actually the lived experience of people. Whilst all research into people’s lives involves their participation in some respect (whether or not they know about it), it is the engagement (or not) with issues of power, social justice and inequality that matters when thinking about ‘participatory’ research.
Academic research supported by an institution will need to consider the ethics of people’s participation – what do they know about the research? how are they being treated? will they benefit? is there a risk of harm? But rather than a one-off consideration of ‘ethics’, social research should ensure ongoing self-questioning of the quality of interactions from the start of thinking about the work right the way through.
Taking on board these interactions, researchers may work with community, voluntary or third sector groups, and the Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers) has published a series of guides about working with voluntary and community organisations.
The guides consider research about health, disability and care, through to austerity, violence, and creative collaborations. They ask questions about the way such research is done – to draw on the experience of groups and organisations, but not in a one-way extractive relationship. Community groups will have hard-won insights and experience – knowledge that may not be in the academic literature. They will have ideas about which areas need further research – and which just need political and practical action (not yet more research!).
The guide on working with groups opposing violence against women draws on this research project – highlighting key aspects of research design; and providing suggestions for how to carry out further research.
It’s about committing to the process of how such research is done – not just what you do…. but the way that you do it….
That’s what gets results!!