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  • 00:00

    [MUSIC PLAYING][Grace Spencer Discusses Participatory Research]

  • 00:09

    GRACE SPENCER: My name is Grace Spencer.I'm an assistant professor at the School of Health Sciencesat the University of Nottingham. [Grace Spencer, AssistantProfessor, School of Health Sciences,University of Nottingham][What research methods are typically used in your fieldof study?]I use a combination of methods, usually, quite close-focused,ethnographic-type techniques, so a lotof observation and participant observation,but also more creative techniquesas well, the use of videos, perhaps artwork,alongside those more traditional techniquessuch as in-depth interviews and focus groups.

  • 00:38

    GRACE SPENCER [continued]: [How would you defined participatory research?]Participatory research can involve a numberof different techniques.I think one of the things that isimportant to know about participatory research,it's really about engaging the participants in the researchprocess.So methods can vary quite considerablydepending on the aims and objectives of the research.But the participatory element is reallyabout getting those involved in the research perhapsto design the research.

  • 01:05

    GRACE SPENCER [continued]: They might be involved in some of the data collection stages,but also some of the data analysis and things like that.And as previously mentioned, the techniquescan vary, such as creation of videos, artwork,photo-elicitation techniques as well.[Who are the participants in participatory research?]I mean, there's a huge amount of examplesin the research literature.

  • 01:30

    GRACE SPENCER [continued]: My own work is with children and young people,but I think participatory research hasgrown in popularity in terms of working with what are calledso-called hard-to-reach groups perhaps, or moremarginalized communities, to really engage them in thingsthat matter to them most and giving them control, perhapsa bit of the power over the research agenda.[What is the difference between participatory researchand action research?]Terms participatory research, participatory action researchoften are used interchangeably.

  • 01:60

    GRACE SPENCER [continued]: Participatory research, as I described,is about engaging participants in the research process,impacting the data collection.Participatory action research is really about that actionas well.And it might be about to do with social change,trying to make some kind of difference,so working with communities, perhaps,and participants with the issues that they themselvesidentify as being most important,but looking towards kind of changesto their circumstances, what needs to be doneto change their environments.

  • 02:30

    GRACE SPENCER [continued]: [How did you first learn about participatory research?]It's quite difficult trying to pin an actual specific time.I think probably during my own postgraduate research trainingmany, many years ago as part of my master's degreein health areas, in public health, community developmentperspectives in which participatory actionresearch was quite a key feature of the research methodologieswhen I was first introduced to it.

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    GRACE SPENCER [continued]: [Is participation research used to investigate specificquestions?]I mean, in many ways, it is very broad-ranging,and I think there are a lot of examples now where researchersare using participatory methods as part of their projects.I would say, though, there are a lotof areas that are well-suited to participatory typesof research, so perhaps more practice-based orientedresearch, where it might be the practitionershave identified a particular problem in practice,and they want to do something about it.

  • 03:27

    GRACE SPENCER [continued]: But they need to know what the issues are,what the challenges are, and how they might do that.So again, that's another area whereparticipatory research really has sort of acceleratedand expanded.[What would you say to a student who wanted to use participatorymethods?]I'd ask them why, what their research questions are,and their aims, really, because I thinkthat's the-- quite often students are keen to usea particular approach or technique, but actually,it's about what those research questions areand what the aim is and then decidingif that is the most appropriate method to use.

  • 03:59

    GRACE SPENCER [continued]: So I guess I'd ask them to explore that a little bit morecritically first.I think some research has quite clear objectives and ideasabout what they want to find out.And participatory research is perhaps much more exploratory.It very much is working with from wherethe participants are.And a lot of that is unknown in advance.

  • 04:21

    GRACE SPENCER [continued]: So perhaps in the realm of health,sometimes some research has very clear aims about finding outabout a particular illness, perhaps,or a particular disease, and perhaps a surveyis more appropriate, or perhaps more traditionalconventional research methods are more appropriate.And it's about that exploration of the unknown,but also giving the control to the participants.

  • 04:43

    GRACE SPENCER [continued]: And that can be quite difficult in some research contexts.So, for example, if it was in a hospital setting,it may not be appropriate to ask patients to participatein certain aspects.But again, it very much depends on the overall aimsand objectives of the research.It is quite a challenge, actually.It's about renegotiating roles, perhaps, and assumptions.

  • 05:07

    GRACE SPENCER [continued]: And I think, especially for early careers researchers,postgraduate researchers, it takes a lotto get used to using methods themselves,to then hand that over to participantscan be quite a challenge.But what that means, I mean, participatory researchis used in different ways.It can be, as I say, working with participantsto actually design the study itself, so in collaborationwith the participants.

  • 05:32

    GRACE SPENCER [continued]: They may shape the research aims and questions to be asked.They may shape the design of the methods, perhaps.Quite often what happens is participantsaren't involved in that stage, for whatever reason,but might be much more involved in the data-collection stages.So for example, there's a lot of researchthat uses these cameras.

  • 05:52

    GRACE SPENCER [continued]: They would give participants cameras and kind of almosta blank page to go off and say, takephotos of what's most important to you,perhaps in relation to the environment or their familiesand so forth.Of course, that's a huge kind of relinquishing controlon the part of the research team.

  • 06:12

    GRACE SPENCER [continued]: You don't know what you're going to get back.You've got to talk through with participantsin terms of what they can and can'ttake photos of, for example, issuesto do with confidentiality or consentif you're taking photos.I mean, that's just one example of a particular method.But I think it is challenging for new researchersto kind of let go of their projectsthat way they want to control, they want to make surethat it's robust, perhaps, or they'regoing to get good quality data, and they'reputting in their hands in perhapswhat they would see as less experienced researchers.

  • 06:48

    GRACE SPENCER [continued]: Well, I think the underpinning philosophyof this type of research is that peopleare experts on their own lives.And so they are best suited to workwith the researcher about what are the important thingsto capture.It also acknowledges that knowledge is perhapscreated and produced in lots of different ways.And it's about using different techniquesto capture those different forms of knowledge.

  • 07:12

    GRACE SPENCER [continued]: So yes, absolutely, people say, oh, they're notexpert researchers, but they are very much the people thatknow their lives and have a perspective to shareand perhaps have good suggestionsabout how best to share that.[What has influenced your development as a researcher?]I think in terms of participatory action research,the philosophy behind it, really though of Paolo Friere,critical pedagogy and all that areaabout trying to work with communitiesand find out what people think are really, really important.

  • 07:43

    GRACE SPENCER [continued]: More methodologically, I think in termsof working with children and young people,there's some great examples in the literature, Allison Clarkand the development of the mosaic technique and approachthere, but also likes of Priscilla Aldersonand Virginia Morrow, their work with children and young people.And I think there's been a rapid expansionin this area in recent times.So there are some great examples in the literature now.

  • 08:06

    GRACE SPENCER [continued]: [How can you entrust children to be researchers?]I would very much say that of course childrenare experts in their own lives.And I think anyone that has spent considerable timewith children and young people knowthey're strong personalities, that they do make decisionsquite often, that they may challengeadults and their parents and teachers quite often.And again, I think it's really importantto understand from their point of viewand their understanding of the world.

  • 08:30

    GRACE SPENCER [continued]: They experience things perhaps differently.They live in a very kind of adult-dominated world.Yet they have unique insights, unique thoughtson how they experience things.I've worked with children as young as four in researchand had no real issue about tryingto tap into what they think about particular things.

  • 08:52

    GRACE SPENCER [continued]: Usually that's around issues to do with health.But again, it's about using the method in a way thatengages with them.So it might be the case of getting them to draw something.It might be getting them to sing something or dance, beingmuch more creative in your approachto trying to get them involved in something.[Can students new to research experience problems whenthe conduct of their research doesn't quite match whatthe textbook said?]I think that's a really important point, because Ithink students are very quick to learn what the textbook saysabout particular methods, but actually howthat plays out in practice is extremely challenging.

  • 09:26

    GRACE SPENCER [continued]: In participatory research, I think those challenge perhapscan be even heightened, because you're passing over the controlto the participants.I think in my own work, a lot of that is school-based.And how research plays out at a schoolcontext that's quite rule-bound can be quite difficult.So for example, I have given young peoplea camera to go away and film what health in schools is like.

  • 09:52

    GRACE SPENCER [continued]: And unfortunately, the skills to use the cameraweren't quite there, but also, the school themselveshad a particular image that they wanted to present.So there was conflicting agendas.And I think that was very part of how this researchmethod plays out in practice, some unintended consequencesthat the head teachers had particular perspectivesabout what should be included in the videoagainst the young people.

  • 10:17

    GRACE SPENCER [continued]: And so whilst you want the young people to own the video,there are lots of different players involved,and that can then shape the agenda.And it can shift things quite a bit, really.I think this type of research requiresan awful lot of planning to do it well and a lot of dialogueamongst the different stakeholders.So in that particular example, therewas a long period of discussion with the teachersto try and get them to buy into kind of the aims,that this is about what young people think.

  • 10:45

    GRACE SPENCER [continued]: But of course, it's got to work for every party that'sinvolved, essentially, and getting the young peopleto understand that actually, especiallyfor visual methods, the implications of that involvingpeople's images, perhaps in a video, whatit might mean for those that are goingto be made available to wider public, perhaps.

  • 11:08

    GRACE SPENCER [continued]: I think in hindsight in that kind of case,I would have perhaps worked more closelywith somebody that had more experiencewith the use of a camera, perhaps givingyoung people more kind of expertisewith the technicalities of these things.I kind of assumed that they'd knowhow to use the camera more than they actually did or purportedto say that they did.But I think a lot of these techniques in participatory,it is a learning process, and you might use themwith other groups of people and actually it works very well.

  • 11:35

    GRACE SPENCER [continued]: Other times, you might encounter more challenges.[What is data analysis, and is it part of participatoryresearch?]I think that's something that is more challenging, perhaps.How do you include participants in the analysis?I think something that I've used before, which again is writtenabout a lot in the literature is this so-called idea of memberchecking, where the researcher does muchof the analysis themselves but then goes backto the participants and checks the kind of interpretationwith them to see whether they got different ideas,different thoughts.

  • 12:09

    GRACE SPENCER [continued]: I think that's certainly a big challenge.How do you engage and use participantsin the analysis stages?And of course, whether they want to be--I think there's a question about where does participationstop and end.So my own approach is usually to sort of go backto the participants after I've had a period of analysisso they're part of that kind of analysis team.

  • 12:31

    GRACE SPENCER [continued]: [What do you ask your participants to do?]I mean, again, it might be an open discussion about someof the ideas that have come out of perhapssome of the discussions we've hadto try and summarize and capture Iguess the kind of main themes or the main ideas.And there might be different suggestionson things, different ideas.

  • 12:54

    GRACE SPENCER [continued]: If there's perhaps parts of-- if it'stranscript data, for example, from an interviewor a discussion perhaps about a project,I might take some of that back to the participantsand say, well, what does that say to you?What does that mean?And of course, with qualitative data analysis more generally,there are multiple interpretationsof any kind of data anyway.

  • 13:14

    GRACE SPENCER [continued]: So it's a difficult part of any process, I think,because you will have different perspectives on that.[What would you do if there was a difference of opinion betweenyou and one of the participants?]I probably would not give my perspective first.I'd ask them their interpretationand then try to explore why they thought that and thenkind of share some of my thinking about it.

  • 13:36

    GRACE SPENCER [continued]: And I usually find through the process of discussionthat you do come to some kind of common understandingand common interpretation.But of course, you need to look at the reasonswhy there's different interpretation.And that might be part of the way it's written up,actually different alternative perspectives,alternative understandings of this.

  • 13:56

    GRACE SPENCER [continued]: And I think, again, that's part of the broader qualitative dataanalysis as well.There isn't necessarily one kind of interpretation of any data.[What kind of visual methods and audio technology do you usein your research?]It varies for the project and varies for the participantsthat I've worked with.I have found that some young people,that the older the young people get--so it's sort of 15, 16-- they actually prefer to talkor they do like their video cameras.

  • 14:24

    GRACE SPENCER [continued]: So I've used video cameras on a number of occasions.And that might be giving the camera to the young people,or it might just be recording aspectsof the data-collection process.I've asked young children, but also older childrenas well, to create perhaps pictures or diagrams, kindof really almost what they want, to kind of representtheir perspectives on something.

  • 14:51

    GRACE SPENCER [continued]: So a project that I finished fairly recentlyon health and research ethics wasabout asking the young people to sort of createpictures and diagrams.And what I found, that some of them wrote words, some of themdrew pictures.And again, I think this is the exciting bit about this method,is that you let the participants create what they want.

  • 15:12

    GRACE SPENCER [continued]: Of course, then you might end up having different kinds of datathat become difficult to analyze and bring together.[Why is it important to attend to research ethics?]Research ethics are central I think to any form of research,whatever background you're coming fromand whatever your arms are.I think the important thing to keep in mindis that research needs to follow good principles in that it'sdoing good for the greater benefit, really,and certainly doing no harm to the peoplethat we work with or are involved,but also people that might be not necessarilydirectly involved but somehow implicated in that.

  • 15:49

    GRACE SPENCER [continued]: There are specific considerationsabout if you're working with people that they'vegot their full consent in terms of understandingwhat the research is about, but also why it's being doneand what would happen after any research is finished,what happens with the results and things like that.[How could children be affected by participatingin social research]I think there's always a lot of concernabout involving children and young people in research,that somehow they can't fully understand what the research isabout so they're not fully informed,whether they can actually give full consent because of that.

  • 16:24

    GRACE SPENCER [continued]: And again, that's a big debate that sort of continues, really.But I think what's important, again,young people and children just wantto know what that research is about.And I think they need to understandwhat their involvement might mean,what it might mean for their friends and family,perhaps, if it's part of that kind of wider project.

  • 16:46

    GRACE SPENCER [continued]: Certainly the work that I've done with young people that'sspecific to research ethics, one of their main concernsis around what happens to kind of the data that's collectedand privacy issues and confidentiality issues.They're very in tune with those kind of things.And again, those things are kind of part of the research ethicsapproval process, but young peoplemay have specific concerns around those.

  • 17:08

    GRACE SPENCER [continued]: Doing an online survey may createissues if it's somehow linked to them in any possible way,or whether they're prepared to kind of giveanswers that might get them into trouble,perhaps, if they're asked about perhaps health practicesthat they think they shouldn't be involved with,such as smoking at a young age or something like that.So again, there may be other issuesspecific to young people.

  • 17:28

    GRACE SPENCER [continued]: There are concerns always about whether childrenand young people might raise perhaps sensitive issuesand how an adult researcher mightdeal with that in the context of the research, whodo they direct that young person to,and whether that young person may feel any harmsas a consequence of that.[How wold you define situated ethics?]Well, as it was described, research ethicsprocesses look at things like informed consent,confidentiality, data protection,and all those kind of things.

  • 17:59

    GRACE SPENCER [continued]: But situated ethics really refer to those kindof everyday moments where you might be out in the researchfield and something happens that's perhapsethically sensitive.And it requires the researcher to sort of actor perhaps not act in that particular moment.And I think those kind of everyday momentsare no less important than the procedural ethicsthat we quite often sort of focus on in termsof research ethics.

  • 18:25

    GRACE SPENCER [continued]: [What kind of field example can you give that might helpa student visualize what that is?]For example, in school-based research,I've done kind of a lot of participate observation.And of course, in a school contextwhere you've got particular schools,young people aren't allowed to talk in class,they shouldn't be eating, they shouldn'tbe challenging teachers, that kind of approach.And when you're sat as a researcher in that classroomcontext, all those activities are going on.

  • 18:50

    GRACE SPENCER [continued]: So the young person might challenge the teacher.They might be talking in class.I've been in situations where the teachers askedme to kind of almost defend them or kind of be their allyin that kind of situation.At the same time, the young personis asking me to defend them-- actually,I wasn't doing anything-- and to take sides.

  • 19:12

    GRACE SPENCER [continued]: So again, those kind of things happen perhapson an almost daily basis in that kind of environmentwhere you might be kind of this in-between of you'rethe kind of stranger in that environment,but you're being asked by two different people to sidewith them, to take sides when rules have been broken.[What should a researcher do in that specific situation?]This is an issue with situated ethics.

  • 19:35

    GRACE SPENCER [continued]: I don't think there is kind of necessarily a formula of what'sright or wrong in that kind of context.Certainly from my experience of doing a lot of participationobservation in schools, the young people reallydo look to the kind of adult researcherto speak up for any injustice, perhaps, or anything where theyfeel that they've been treated unfairly,which again is also about ethics.

  • 20:02

    GRACE SPENCER [continued]: And I think in order to do that type of research,it goes back to what I said earlier,but the dialogue with all players,all stakeholders in that researchis really, really important.So I found myself having long discussions with teachersbefore the lessons that if breaks in rules dooccur, what are your expectations of mein that context?

  • 20:24

    GRACE SPENCER [continued]: But also having that discussion with the young people as well,so I guess that open dialogue.But again, I think that comes with experience sometimes.You can almost preempt after beingin that context for a while these kind of issues may arise.Certainly when you're new to them,they can be quite daunting thinking, what shall I do?But I think the important thing isto have that dialogue with, for example,the teachers and the young peopleto say, what do you expect from me?

  • 20:49

    GRACE SPENCER [continued]: What is your expectation?And this is my research, this is the way I'm thinking,and to come to some common ground there.[What is your response to students' negative attitudestowards research methods?]I found students don't necessarilyhave a blanket [INAUDIBLE] research methodsor it's all boring.I think they find particular techniques,perhaps a particular methodology challenging.

  • 21:11

    GRACE SPENCER [continued]: And it's usually unknown or stuffthat perhaps doesn't resonate with their kindof perspectives.I think in terms of trying to make it less boring, perhaps,it's about going back to that putting it into practice.So again, reading or learning about methodology or methodsmay sound quite dry at times, but if theygo away and do an interview and then reflect on that process,perhaps, or do a survey and then actuallythink through some of the challengesto that, how they may have shapedthe data within that process, I findthat it's a much more engaging kind of teaching style,but also perhaps to use different techniquesas well to keep them motivated.

  • 21:52

    GRACE SPENCER [continued]: And at the end of the day, it's about finding outnew knowledge, perhaps, finding outthings that they're interested in sothat if they're doing research, thenthey need to learn about the methodologiesand techniques that are most suitedto addressing those questions.[How would you summarize your top research tips?]I think never take anything for granted,perhaps, and always keep questioning.

  • 22:16

    GRACE SPENCER [continued]: I think ask lots of questions.I don't think there is such a thing as a silly question.But always question what it is that you'redoing, what it is that other people are doing,and kind of ask that "why" all the time.I think talking to others helps an awful lot,even talking to people that do research or use methods thatperhaps are not quite in your areaor what you think you might do.

  • 22:37

    GRACE SPENCER [continued]: Because I think you can learn a lotfrom what might seem like the other sideof the other perspective.So I think that process of dialogue with othersenables that kind of critical analysis,that kind of reflectivity about particular methodsand methodologies.So question, but also talk a lot to other people.I think in terms of key research skills,don't underestimate the planning and kindof organization and the time that it takesand perhaps the energy as well.

  • 23:06

    GRACE SPENCER [continued]: I find that students embark on their first research projectsand realize quickly how tired they are from the processitself.And I think, again, it's about very good time managementand having an understanding of how much actuallygoes into producing that piece of research and that endproduct.


Dr. Grace Spencer discusses her experiences with participatory research, particularly involving children and adolescents. Participatory research often involves giving away control and power over what happens during a study, in order to elicit more authentic data. Spencer addresses issues of power and situated ethics.

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Grace Spencer Discusses Participatory Research

Dr. Grace Spencer discusses her experiences with participatory research, particularly involving children and adolescents. Participatory research often involves giving away control and power over what happens during a study, in order to elicit more authentic data. Spencer addresses issues of power and situated ethics.

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