Friday, 4 July 2008

Research Methods Festival 2008: privilege and control

This week, with my NCRM hat on I attended the Research Methods Festival (see the programme and presentations slides at this website:

It's the first time I've been to the Festival, (which is held every two years) and so I did not know what to expect. I am pleased to report that I learnt a lot, and so I just wanted to share some highlights for you- focusing particularly on my interests in participatory research.

On Thursday I attended a session convened by Caroline Bryson called "Research with children-what are we still overlooking"? I attended the session because I wanted to see how different participatory research with children is, compared to participatory research with adults who have learning disabilities. One person in the audience asked: is research with children so different to any other kind of research? The panel replied yes. I would concur- in that what seemed to preoccupy the audience were issues of confidentiality- particularly what to do if a child revealed something sensitive and whether or not it should be passed on to a statutory agency such as social services. If the session had been about participatory research with people who have learning disabilities I suspect the audience would have been preoccupied with issues surrounding how much control the participants are actually given over the research (and the tensions between participatory and emancipatory research).

Despite the differences I observed, my ears pricked up at the following comments which I think do have resonance for learning disability research:

  1. Talking about the method of encouraging children to participate through creative activities such as drawing and then writing about our interpretations of these drawings Kay Tisdall asked a number of hard to answer questions : Why are we so fixated about translating the non-written into written text? Are we privileging "voice" and articulation and marginalising those who use other communication methods? Kay went on to suggest that perhaps we are getting distracted by the tools of participatory research (e.g. drawings) and losing focus on the participation.
  2. Talking about the role of ethics committees in participatory research, Jo Moran-Ellis an audience member argued that we need to challenge ethics committees who require us to see children as vulnerable with little capacity or resilience. When children are abused, control is taken away from them- when ethics committees make decisions for children- control is also taken away from them.

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