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Celebrating #coproweek and our peer research programme

Peer research is a key strand of our programme, and is just one of the ways that we incorporate the spirit of co-production here at Fulfilling Lives Newcastle Gateshead. In this blog our Research and Evaluation Lead Ang Broadbridge talks to one of our Experts by Experience, Thomas, about his experience of developing a peer research project.

Peer research is research that is steered and delivered by people with lived experience of the issues we are studying.  It’s a bottom-up approach as people who are affected by the issues the research is exploring play a very active role in the research design, delivery and presentation of findings, ensuring that findings are really owned by people with lived experience.

At Fulfilling Lives Newcastle Gateshead (FLNG) our peer research is co-produced and we make a peer research offer to the system around us: we want to see a shift from service user involvement led by professionals to peers defining the remit and research questions.

Brene Brown is a research professor at University of Houston who writes prominantly about shame and vulnerability.  I first came across her research because I was interested in her work on human behaviour.  I really like how she talks about research methodologies, positioning herself as a ‘researcher storyteller’ – she talks about how strong research “develops the courage to let the research participants define the research problem.” 

For me this speaks to peer research.  People with multiple and complex needs often experience power imbalances and voiceless-ness, and peer research can be a powerful tool for empowering people and giving them a genuine voice.

When we start a new peer research project I don’t write the questions, the peer researchers work the questions up together and there’s something really powerful about the process that really teases out discussions of ethical issues and biases and shapes up an empowering piece of research.

So far, we have trained three FLNG Experts by Experience in NVQ Level 2 Peer Research Skills to deliver peer research projects.  They have chosen the Care System as the focus for their first peer research project.

Here’s what they have to say about their hopes for the project:

We want to understand the experiences of people with multiple and complex needs who have experience of the care system.   We’re conducting interviews to explore people’s experiences, to understand what needs to change, and to develop recommendations for policy change.

As a result of the research we’ll have increased knowledge of the barriers faced by people with multiple and complex needs, and of their lived experience of the care system.  We are interested in people who grew up in the care system, those who were cared for by family or friends, and those who grew up with shared care arrangements. 

Talking to System Change Practioners about participants we were asked whether we are considering the experiences of people who have children in the Care System so we have broadened our brief as we feel these experiences will add breadth and depth to the research findings, capturing a greater range of views and current as well as more historic experiences.

I asked Thomas about why this research question interests him, and what he has found so far:

“I’m interested to see what the data tells us, I’m interested to see if people talk about the traumatic events that led to a child being in care, in my experience this isn’t looked at until years later, if at all”

It was really interesting to explore what we knew as a group about the care system, particularly the history of care issues:

“Research…looking into it…makes you realise how much needs to change – the care system has been in place in different ways for hundreds of years, I didn’t know that, so when I looked that up online and found out kids have been in the care system in homes and schools since before the 1700s, wow…and we still haven’t got it right!”

Working together, getting to know each other through developing questions opened up peer researchers’ experiences:

“It’s been nice to get to know a bit about each other, we’re closer now through this…it’s nice to know I’m not the only one that’s been there.”

As the group are about to start their fieldwork Thomas reflected on how he is looking forward to getting started:

“I’m looking forward to it, the only people’s experiences I’ve heard are people who aren’t in that cycle of addiction, so it will be interesting to have a different take on it from people who not as advanced in recovery and stability as our group are.” 

I’m looking forward to working with the group as they start to interview participants and analyse their data, I think their questions are thought provoking and will help us to understand multiple and complex needs better.  If you’re interested to find out more about this work, please contact Ang at angela.broadbridge@fulfillinglives-ng.org.uk