Considerations when establishing meaningful collaboration with participants and peer researchers

Democratic Society
4 min readApr 24, 2023

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By Emonie Ayiwe, Research Assistant at Demsoc, part of our ongoing efforts towards democratising research

Reflecting, learning and sharing our experiences is important to the work we do and is part of our values as an organisation. This piece is part of an ongoing thought process of our thinking around democratising research and ensuring meaningful participation.

We are sharing some of the main reflections on collaborating with individuals and communities that we have adopted over the years from the different works that we have done such as a peer research project for the British Red Cross, a research project for the Health and Social Care Alliance Scotland on lived experience health and social care policy, a literature review on engaging citizens in AI and many others.

© Fredrikka Walker — Read about our work with Health and Social Care Alliance Scotland: Engaging people with lived experience: best practice, challenges, and opportunities

4 things to consider and adopt when establishing meaningful collaboration

  1. Regular communication and active listening
  2. Training and support
  3. Inclusive budget
  4. Network of organisations

Regular communication and active listening

Having regular and close communication that is meaningful with participants builds relationship, creates trust and fosters sharing of knowledge and experiences. Communication also entails active listening to individuals and, being ready to learn from them and to better address own biases. A way to manage close communication is to appoint dedicated members to continuously and purposefully have regular contact with the participants and peer researchers. This can be done through check-in calls or meetings with the participants to ensure that they are ready to do an interview or another activity. This also gives an opportunity for them to ask any final questions and clarifications. Regular communication also ensures clear understanding of the expectations of the work being done. This is crucial so that those participating understand what they are supposed to do and what they want out of the work.

“Be ready to listen and learn — design the process so it is guided by this approach.”

Training and support

Ensuring that the participants or peer researchers are trained to carry out the work. This can entail sharing research principles, providing support in developing research questions, data analysis and collection skills, ethical considerations, working with different equipment and any other training that aims to equip the participants to do the work to their best abilities. In addition to providing training, supporting them along the way of the work is important so that individuals feel confident in being able to do the work.

Accommodating to needs and being ready to adapt to situations. Understanding the needs of the participants from the get-go ensures that the training and support are fit to the capabilities of the participants. Support should also provide risk mitigation and ensure that participants feel comfortable. Not only should appropriate training be provided to participants, but also to the staff working on such projects to adequately equip them to work with the participants and peer researchers.

Inclusive budget

Accounting for childcare needs, transport, training, and any other support need to already be included in the budget. An inclusive budget should cover monetary reimbursement of participation as well to acknowledge the work and contribution of the participants and peer researchers. Such payments have to be reimbursed accurately to conform to legal requirements in the country. An inclusive budget would assure that all the components of the work can be completed and delivered.

Network of organisations

Working with relevant networks of organisations can support the work being done. These organisations can provide expertise knowledge in the topic such as legal advice or mental health support or support in recruiting participants or peer researchers. While, this does not mean that the leading organisation should not equip its own team with safeguarding and mental health support skills, the expert organisations can support both the organisation as well as the participants and provide best practices of working with different groups of people. Nor does it meant that the work should solely rely on other organisations recruiting participants, but this support can serve as an effective way to find communities and networks of individuals.

“Peer research in our work aims to ensure that those doing the research have similar experience and deep understanding of the needs and cultural sensitivities of those whose realities the research seeks to understand. Diversity and inclusion are therefore key values for us in our work.”

Want to learn more on Demsoc’s research work? Here’s a selection:

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Democratic Society

Membership organisation supporting participation, citizenship and better ways of doing government. Engaged but non-partisan.