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“You’re not talking to the suits, you’re talking to one of your own”

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, Ang shares her learning from the peer research projects she has been involved in at FLNG.

“You’re not talking to the suits, you’re talking to one of your own”
by Ang Broadbridge, FLNG Research and Evaluation Lead

Feel good factor WEBPeer research is research that is conducted by people with lived experience of the issues being studied.  It’s not a method, but a framework for doing research which works for social change and action.

I’ve recently trained our eighth cohort of peer researchers, taking a group through an intensive, rewarding and fun six-week peer research NVQ Level 2 module, working with them to develop their skills and knowledge and preparing them to deliver their own peer research project.  By far and away the best part of my job is getting to know our researchers, watching them grow as we learn together.  Peer research is change work, it’s vital and vibrant and often brave, stimulating new conversations within our communities.

Trust the process

We start each training round by exploring our core values and our hopes and fears, often our new trainees are uncertain about whether they will be able to write a research report, carry out interviews or present their findings.  Reflecting on what I’ve learned and how I build their trust and confidence I’ve realised that I hear myself say “trust the process” every week, sometimes several times a week.  There’s a lovely quote in one of Brene Brown’s books: ‘traveller, there is no path, the path is forged as you walk’ – for me this is peer research in a nutshell – trust the process and let the participants define the research problem and the questions!

Magical mystery tour

We ask our trainees to come on a bit of a magical mystery tour; we don’t know what we will find – it’s not my project, it’s their project, they write the questions, deliver the research and present the findings, and as they progress they encourage each other to trust the process, challenge each other’s biases and remind each other of their core values, their collective strengths and skills.

We’re a test and learn programme and so it’s been hugely freeing to explore with many groups what genuine peer-led research might look and feel like, exploring a wide range of topics including begging, access to mental health for people with experience of homelessness, employability barriers for people in recovery and evaluating local services too.  I am interested too in my role in the research process, in my own lived experience and my hopes for the legacy of this programme in respect to peer research.  We’ve learned a lot together, and as I explore my role and involvement I am starting to think about how we can further build the capacity of peer researchers; right now I still do a lot of facilitation, but we have a great group of experienced peer researchers who could now take on these roles.

A space for support

For peer research to be effective we have to acknowledge power issues, whose voice is heard, who is missing, who owns and controls the information?  In building the capacity for peer research in our communities we’ve built a Peer Research Network to offer both peer support and a reflective space for researchers.  A space for support, and sometimes consulting with critical friends, here we acknowledge that we are all changed by our experience of peer research, we hear and are privy to sensitive and sometimes upsetting experiences and we need a space to talk openly about power issues and ethical dilemmas.

Recently we’ve expanded our network to include workers and managers who have been through our peer research course, recognising that frontline staff and leaders have a role to play in investigating their own professional practice. Conducting research with their peers can spark new and fresh conversations about working with people experiencing multiple and complex needs, and working with lived experience researchers will give us the unique opportunity for triangulation of findings!

The impacts of peer research

Thinking about the impacts of peer research, as well as the obvious benefits of research practice and findings that are rooted in lived experience we have been thrilled to see six of our trainees move into employment following their completion of the peer research course.  As we work together peer researchers give me a unique insight into their communities, their support networks and of course they grow and deepen in their friendships, working together in shared meaning making and for social change.  In my view engagement in peer research is very much an impact in itself.

Closing the feedback loop

Our peer researchers sometimes find things that are hard to hear, or that don’t quite fit their brief if delivering commissioned research, but we always report the findings faithfully, respecting that people are experts in their own lives and that sharing these findings can address power imbalances or shine a light on areas for change.  Key learning for us has been about closing the feedback loop- we always endeavour to share what we find with our participants, and there have been occasions when the peer researchers have not been afforded the same feedback from agencies they’ve worked with.

Now when we scope a peer research project we’re clear that we don’t know what we will find, and that peer researchers will make recommendations that may be challenging, and will want to know what happens with their recommendations – peer research is an active process and we value action in seeing changes happen as a result of the research.

Peer research

Together with our Peer Research Network we have developed a toolkit of top tips to help with the practical side of carrying out peer research – I’ll be sharing these in my next blog.  In the meantime, if you have any questions or comments about peer research, please get in touch by emailing me at angela.broadbridge@fulfillinglives-ng.org.uk or joining our conversation on Twitter @fulllives_ng.

Peer research session notes - hopes