Participatory Action Research – Change for what?

PIF Summary 8 December 2016

We were delighted to welcome Dr Maritta Törrönen, Marie Curie Individual European Fellow, who shared her work on Participatory Action Research with young adults leaving care with the Participatory Inquiry Forum. Maritta’s approach sits within the field of reciprocal social work, which acknowledges that people receiving social support and care services also want to contribute something of value to others and that breaking this norm of reciprocity can diminish self-respect and self-worth.

Höjer & Sjöblom (2011) found young adults leaving care are at risk of invisibility in the welfare system, while Stein (2006; 2008) highlights the importance of promoting the resilience of young adults leaving care and the need for more comprehensive services for these young adults across the life course. Maritta is working with young adults leaving care as co-researchers to undertake case studies in Finland (already completed) and in the UK on the experiences of care leavers as they enter their independent lives.

With the support of Essex County Council, four young adults have received training on research skills delivered by Maritta, Professor Carol Munn-Giddings and Dr Niamh O’Brien. They will conduct peer research on experiences of leaving care. This participatory approach allows young adults to take ownership of the research – including design and ethics, data collection and analysis, interpretation and dissemination. In Finland, becoming a co-researcher led to leadership opportunities for the young adults, including attending conferences overseas.

Just some of the research knowledge gained by co-researchers included the importance of:

  • leadership, communication and adaptation skills during interviews
  • building a relationship with young adult participants and making them feel comfortable
  • encouraging young adult participants to trust themselves and enabling them to participate
  • helping young adult participants to feel they are able to contribute / take action
  • being sensitive towards young adult participants and safeguarding them
  • teamwork and recognising responsibilities throughout the whole research process

As experts by experience in developing social services for care leavers, these young adults aim to generate user-driven findings and recommendations. In addition, the research process itself intends to raise awareness around the value of young adults participating in research and action for improved social work policy and practice. Finally, the young adults will have the opportunity to strengthen their skills and capabilities to act in their communities, which may help in other areas of their lives. In this way, the research includes an action component to influence positive change.

The open question and answer session that followed included discussions on the longevity of Participatory Action Research projects and how the ‘ending’ of the research can be managed, as well as how peer research can produce richer data as co-researchers and participants have a more fluid conversation around their shared experience.

Further information about Maritta’s work can be found here. Please contact with any questions.

Peer-led recruitment for engaging older veterans living with limb loss

PIF Summary 8 December 2016

Our first Participatory Inquiry Forum of 2016/17 kicked off with Dr Nick Caddick presenting on the peer-led recruitment methods used in “Maintaining Independence: A pilot study into the health and social well-being of older limbless veterans”. This new project is a collaboration between the Veterans and Families Institute at Anglia Ruskin University, Northumbria University Newcastle, and Blesma, a charity that supports limbless veterans throughout their lives. The project is funded by the Aged Veterans Fund.

Interviews will be conducted to generate experiential narratives of living with limb loss, explore opportunities for improving care for vulnerable older veterans and facilitate planning for future healthcare costs and requirements of older veterans. The research will be guided by three key questions:

  1. How have limbless veterans maintained independence into old age?
  2. What are their physical, psychological, and social needs as they age?
  3. Is social isolation a problem for ageing limbless veterans?

In order to recruit 30 veterans aged 40-90 who have lost a limb, the project used a peer-led recruitment strategy that engaged a Blesma Support Officer (BSO) to act as the peer-recruiter for the study. As a member of Blesma himself and trusted within the organisation, the BSO is able to approach other members to tell them about the research and gauge interest; he has been highly successful in recruiting participants so far.

Delving into the literature on peer-led recruitment, Nick found two potentially relevant themes:

  • Literature around engaging ‘hard-to-reach’ populations using the quantitative approach of respondent-driven sampling, which employs statistical adjustments to overcome sampling bias (Mosher et al., 2015).
  • Literature around engaging ‘hard-to-reach men’ in healthcare promotion interventions, for example Carroll et al. (2014) and Pringle et al. (2014).

These commonly used strategies will be incorporated into the literature review Nick is currently working on, which will also address the challenges of engaging ‘hard-to-reach’ groups, the dearth of qualitative literature on peer-led recruitment, and critical reflections on the ethical considerations.

The open question and answer session that followed included discussions on the benefits of trust, familiarity and shared experience in the recruitment process; the risk of coercion and how the research is communicated to potential participants; managing expectations of participants in terms of how support may change for others in the future; and the possibilities for also involving peer recruiters in data collection.

Please contact with any questions.

Welcome to the ARU Participatory Research Blog

Welcome to our new ARU Participatory Research Blog to raise the profile of participatory research and facilitate further opportunities for collaboration. We hope this blog will become a platform for sharing learning, successes and challenges in participatory research and provide useful information for researchers, students and community members involved in participatory research.

Participatory research at Anglia Ruskin University aims to build partnerships with community members who have direct experiences of the topic under study and facilitate their involvement in research in order to strengthen the value and impact of our work.

The Participatory Research Group (PRG) brings together staff and students from across departments with an interest in all forms of participatory inquiry. Participatory inquiry includes action research, cooperative inquiry and user and carer involvement in research.

The group is chaired by Professor Carol Munn-Giddings in Chelmsford and by Professor Jeffrey Grierson in Cambridge. It is coordinated by Anna Dadswell. Group members collaborate on research projects and consultancy, share expertise and resources, and host discussion and debating events throughout the academic year.

In Chelmsford, the Participatory Inquiry Forum (PIF) is held 3-4 times each year with speakers include staff, practitioners, service users and doctoral students who make short presentations focused on methodology, methods of engagement and reflections on ethical and political issues raised. This is followed by interactive discussions and the opportunity to explore further. There is also a networking and planning event held each summer.

In Cambridge, the newly established Children and Young People’s Research Group under the umbrella of the Participatory Research Group, aims to raise the voice of younger generations in research on the topics that are most important to them. This group is led by Professor Jeffrey Grierson and Dr Niamh O’Brien.

Please feel free to share this blog with your networks and help to extend the reach of our participatory research. For more information, questions and suggestions contact Anna Dadswell at