Picture from MyBnk
For change to be meaningful, it's vital that the people who are most affected are at its heart. 'Plugged in' is a mini blog series, where we'll be sharing best practice examples of how our funded partners ensure their projects are owned by the communities they serve. Here, Matthew Walsham, policy lead at Partnership for Young London, and peer researcher Halima Mehmood discuss the team's approach to peer-led research, and why it's such an important approach.
Why is peer research so important?
Halima Mehmood: Peer research is an essential part of research processes going forward, because it's all about empowerment and power sharing. Traditional research methods tend to be much more about taking, rather than giving back, whereas peer research is much more like: “Here’s what I can do for you, to help you to take this on further.”
So peer research empowers and enables people. But it also provides a more authentic voice, and a more authentic way to get access into particular groups. If you go into a situation that you’re not intimately familiar with, as a researcher, there’s automatically an imbalance that comes across. By training people who are already in a situation – for example young people to do research about young people – they have so much more access, and the outcomes you get are much richer.
Matthew Walsham: When we talk about young people getting involved in decision making, we want them to have a meaningful say over decisions that impact their lives. But sometimes what happens is we create separate structures, like a youth voice counsel, that don’t mirror the way that policies are actually created. We need to ensure that young people who want to be meaningfully involved are able to match these processes, learning about research and how you gather data and intelligence about your community, and using that to inform good practice.
What is your approach to peer research?
Matt: We've got a group of five peer researchers. They go out, they design the questions from their lived experiences. But actually, the power of it is they go out and get better access into schools and into youth clubs. They speak to people that we wouldn't have access to. They get a decent sample of 500 people, and then they're armed to go back to decision makers and go: “This isn't just our five opinions. We've actually done the work, the same work that you guys would do in a data and intelligence team. These are our findings. And we have a mandate, essentially.”
You have to get young people involved at every stage – from the recruitment phase, in the training and analysis, even on things like the report design and what colours it’s going to be. The whole point of peer research is to create a sense of agency and ownership over the process. How can we make people feel at every point like they have control over the research – that it’s authentically theirs? If we can do that, they will be more engaged and it will be a better piece of work.
What were the results? And what lessons did you learn?
Matt: Over the past three years, we’ve supported about 15 organisations to do peer research. Every project has a different group of young people, they represent the voice of very specific communities in very specific areas. And the change that they want to see varies.
We try to make sure that for every project, what the peer researchers want to achieve is not only built in from the beginning, but has three main scopes. Firstly, internally. How can we ensure that the organization supporting the project is going to embed participation going forward in all of their decision making? The second is about local change. What changes have they been able to make to their local community? And the third one is regional. What does it mean over London? The more peer research we do across London, the more we build up a picture. But what peer research does really well is that it gives us direct, specific actions that we can change in specific locations.
Halima: One of the biggest lessons for me is the power and creativity that young learners have. It comes across with every single project that seen or worked on. And that's a huge, huge thing. Young Londoners are chronically underestimated with what they can actually provide, predominantly because of that power sharing, and how this isn't necessarily mainstream policy from that. So that's one of the key lessons. And the second one is the real passion for actually enacting that change and wanting to build up those trusting relationships insofar as not only are we giving you access into what it is that we want, and what we have to offer, but also how can we trust you and actually deliver. The drive to create that is very much present for young Londoners. I don't necessarily know if that's the case from policymakers yet. But hopefully, work like this is starting to shift the power and the balance in favour of creating those cyclical relationships.
What did you learn from experience?
Halima: Every single preconceived conception that I had about the process went out the window. I had on my own background in research. I thought, okay, it's probably going to be quite rigid. But Partnership for Young London really pushed me to consider what other approaches I could use, and there was a big shift towards more creative approaches. That was a massive thing. And the other aspect was not to constrain myself. If there was a place that I wanted to take one of the recommendations, then to just push it. A lot of it is about confidence.
There was a big lesson around actually going: “Hang on, I’m not limited in the sense of my age, or the work that I’m doing. People care and want to listen to what it is that I have to say as a result of my findings,” and going: “Okay, yeah. I can do this.”
About Partnership for Young London
We fund Partnership for Young London to strengthen the voices of young people in policy across London, with young Londoners at the heart of co-designing and co-delivering projects, research and campaigns.