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Being an ethical peer researcher

Ang Broadbridge delivers peer research training to people with lived experience of multiple and complex needs and supports peer researchers to undertake research projects that can shape how services are delivered in future. In this blog series, Ang shares her learning from the peer research projects she has been involved in at FLNG.

Being an ethical peer researcher
Ang Broadbridge, FLNG Research and Evaluation Lead

In my last blog (available here) I shared some of my learning from training eight cohorts of peer researchers as part of FLNG’s peer research programme.  Our Peer Research Network is a key part of the programme, offering a space for support and a critical friend for our projects.  Carrying out peer research in an ethical way is a priority for us and the network has developed this set of tips for ethical peer research which we’d like to share with you in this blog.

  • Work together as a group to name your core values, explore these at regular intervals. Ask yourselves, are you living into your values at each stage in the research process?
  • Get to know your community and the organisational settings and participants well.
  • Identify levels of power amongst your stakeholders and also within the research context. Explore barriers and blockages, don’t be afraid to ask challenging questions.
  • Acknowledge your own interests and biases, once you’ve acknowledged them to yourself also acknowledge them to others!
  • Anticipate ethical issues (we have an ethical approval process to help with this).
  • Be aware of your own limits – don’t overcommit yourself. Prioritise self-care.  Take up reflective practice support, try to recognise the impact of the research on your own mental health and take a break or step back if needed.
  • Practice active listening and interview skills, ask each other for feedback and explore opportunities to practice getting comfortable with allowing silences.
  • Be flexible, have fun and be prepared for an element of surprise!

From my own experience, both as a researcher and as a facilitator of peer research projects, I would add the following tips.

  • Peer researchers should be fully involved in all stages of the research process, from design through to dissemination.
  • Peer research isn’t quick, it isn’t ‘going in and asking a few questions’ – it takes time to train and support peer researchers to develop research questions but the quality of research makes this a worthwhile investment. Be realistic about timescales, build in extra time and if you can over recruit it might be wise to account for people dropping out or missing sessions.  Can you repeat training sessions for those that miss them?  Encourage the group to set ground rules around being a reliable team player and encourage the peer researchers to keep in touch during quieter times; peer research is often just one part of our role so when there is perhaps less contact time encouraging email contact, and encouraging people to meet socially helps keep them engaged
  • The person overseeing the research is in a supporting role, they are not ‘leading’ the research process, so they should see their role as more facilitative and less leading.  As peer researchers develop in their skills and experience of peer research they may wish to take on more of this facilitation – this should be encouraged as it helps build capacity for community based research!
  • Ask peer researchers to keep a reflective diary of their experiences to help capture their learning and development, and reflections on the peer research process; this can help you to gauge how empowering their experience is.
  • It should be made explicit from the start what the role of peer researcher involves and peer researchers should be encouraged to explore issues around agency; how they define themselves and what they tell people about their own experiences.  They should be aware of the implications of disclosing their own experiences.
  • Conducting interviews with peers may raise potentially sensitive issues for peer researchers about their own experiences; be aware of this, encourage researchers to be self-aware and recognise the impact of the research on their own feelings and emotions and ensure support is available.  Think about offering a structured and regular reflective practice session for peer researchers

Is there anything you would add? Get in touch by emailing me at angela.broadbridge@fulfillinglives-ng.org.uk or joining the conversation on Twitter @fulllives_ng.

Peer research session notes 2