Peer-research – a participant’s perspective
Following some peer research we did for Get Online Week, our annual campaign for improving digital skills, Peer Researcher Amanda shares her thoughts on the campaign.
This week Good Things Foundation published ‘Clicking On In Sunderland: Peer Research Findings and Recommendations for Make It Click’. This report, based on the findings of seven Peer Researchers recruited by Sunderland North Family Zone, an Online Centre and community learning organisation, which is helping to deliver Make It Click in Sunderland.
The Peer Researchers were trained, and their activities coordinated by Natasha Munoz from the Good Things Foundation Research Team. From June to December 2019, the Peer Researchers interviewed local people, conducted surveys, and participated in focus groups to refine the Make It Click marketing campaign materials and online learning portal.
Amanda Tye was one of the Peer Researchers. In this blog, she explains what motivated her to become involved in the project, and describes her experiences. Like all good researchers, she sees the people she interviewed as active participants rather than passive subjects, and she took an intelligent and flexible approach to data collection. She also makes some useful observations about our planning and delivery of the peer research project, with suggestions for how to improve similar work in the future – we’re incredibly grateful to her and the other Peer Researchers for their hard work, which led to such an impressive final report.
“Technology is such a strange thing. I’ve been using computers for about thirty years, but they change so fast that you’ve got to keep learning and refreshing, even with things you use all the time, or you start to feel like you’re lagging behind. I’ve needed computer skills professionally – I’ve done a lot of community work, both as a volunteer and paid work in offices – and at home for craft. I love desktop publishing, and I’ll upload photos and use them in creative projects.
“So I was intrigued when I read about the opportunity to become a Peer Researcher for the Make It Click programme, with its focus on developing the skills of ‘limited’ computer users. I’ve been a volunteer at Sunderland North Family Zone for a while, and I’m a long-time member of their weekly craft class, so I already knew some of the other people who were involved. I didn’t know what to expect, so my sister and I agreed to go to the first meeting and see what it was all about.
“The session was run by Natasha, from the Research Team at Good Things Foundation. We started off with an icebreaker activity, writing on Post-it notes what knowledge we had of computers and the internet, then putting our notes on flipchart paper on the wall. This process helped me to understand that, despite my experience with computers, I’m a limited user myself when it comes to things like updating equipment, finding cheaper and faster broadband deals, and financial activities like online banking.
“The problem at the first meeting was that people didn’t understand what peer research really was. Natasha had put some books about the subject on the tables, but when she tried to explain it to us everybody kept talking and so we kept going off on a tangent and she had to keep pulling the conversation back on topic. She did an excellent job, considering there were lots of people who had their own ideas, but there was so much going on that it was a little bit confused, and before we left I had to clarify with her what we had to do before the next session. But I liked what I’d heard, and I took the books home to find out more about what peer research involved. They were quite advanced – degree level – and I mentioned this to Natasha the next time I saw her; I suggested that in future maybe she could provide an A4 sheet to new Peer Researchers to say, ‘this is me, this is what I’m doing’. If people want to understand more, then they can go on to read the books.
“When it came to conducting research interviews, Natasha told us that we should start off by talking to our family and friends – I was glad she didn’t expect us to stand in the street and talk to strangers! Three of my four daughters are in their thirties and have their own families, so I started with them, but I went on to interview other people I knew as well. It wasn’t hard to get people interested in being interviewed: the names associated with the project – Google, Good Things Foundation and Sunderland North Family Zone – got their attention. They weren’t reluctant to answer my questions either, once I’d explained that they couldn’t be identified through the information they provided. The only real challenge for me was making sure I was speaking to the right people. We were only supposed to speak to Sunderland residents, but it was hard to know where to draw the line: some local people have Newcastle postcodes, even though they’re only only down the road in Washington.
“When it came to capturing what interviewees said, Natasha had told us that we should write down their responses, but I found it easier to explain to my interviewees the whole purpose of what I was doing, and then ask them to write their answers themselves. With four daughters and experience working as a childminder, I know the importance of including people and giving them a sense of ownership, and this way felt more inclusive – I also think that, having to write their answers themselves, my interviewees had to think more about their responses. I wasn’t doing exactly what Natasha asked, but I decided ‘I’m doing it this way – and it’s okay.’ Also – I know it sounds strange – if people wrote their own answers, Natasha would know I hadn’t just sat there and written the responses myself!
“Trying to get useful answers to the questions we were given presented some challenges. Because we asked exactly the same questions about several similar things – like the posters advertising the Make It Click website – I found that people ended up repeating themselves, or saying ‘as above’. In the future it might be a good idea to reduce the number of questions, and ask different questions about each specific thing, to get around this problem.
“When we’d finished our interviews, we recorded the data on a very large Google Sheet – I had used spreadsheets before, but not where several people were inputting information on different laptops onto the same spreadsheet at the same time – technology at its finest!
“Overall, I absolutely loved being a Peer Researcher. I met people and made new friends and, although there was some confusion to start with, I found the role intriguing, and a challenge. I especially liked looking at the Make It Click marketing materials, and asking others for their opinions of these. I love desktop publishing – I have a Level 3 qualification – and I’ve been a creator and designer for many years, so I found it very interesting to see others’ professional work. Through the project I also went to the Google Garage, and did about twelve courses there, which I really enjoyed. They did a lot of stuff about how to start your own business; maybe in future the Garages and the Make It Click website could give advice on how to start making money from hobbies, for keen crafters like me.
“The project is now added to my CV, and I just love the finished report. If I had to do it all again from the beginning, I would.”