Enhancing the benefits of group involvement in research
Keywords:groups, community, research, benefits, challenges
Research can facilitate mutual learning, allow participants’ voices to be heard, increase practical usefulness of studies and foster empowerment. This paper discusses ways that groups can take part in research, outlines advantages and limits of each and explores strategies for enhancing benefits. This content is illustrated with brief examples from recent research publications and from two longer case studies. Groups and members can be involved as participants or co-producers of research. As participants, they either act as research subjects by contributing data, or as collaborators who are consulted at various times to help keep a study relevant to community issues. Being a subject offers an opportunity to reflect and share views, while collaborators and researchers can learn from working together. Though collaborators can exert influence, they have little control over decisions around focus, design, methods or dissemination of a study. Co-producing knowledge offers community groups more power, learning and empowerment but requires high levels of mutual trust, commitment and persistence. Potential gains and risks increase as involvement intensifies. However, researchers can enhance benefits at any level, by keeping this goal in mind when planning studies.