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Three lessons on engagement of survivors in research

Izzy Templer blogs on lessons learned from our projects so far on meaningfully involving survivors in research.

Published: 17th May 2022

On 5th May, we organised a workshop bringing together nine different Modern Slavery PEC funded projects to discuss the work they have done to engage with people who have lived experience of modern slavery in their research.

It was an opportunity for the project teams to share and discuss opportunities and challenges, while learning from the experiences of others. It was also a chance for the Modern Slavery PEC to learn more about what works, which will help us to improve how we support our funded projects in future.

There is wide agreement across the anti-slavery sector that we need to do more to understand the needs of people with lived experience of modern slavery by improving and increasing meaningful engagement in research. There is emerging good practice, from a variety of organisations and programmes, around engagement with people who have lived experience, but as yet no settled best practice exists. Here are three key lessons we learned at the event.

1. Forming partnerships is key

All the Modern Slavery PEC-funded research project teams have developed or built on existing partnerships with a range of organisations, including those with specialist expertise and frameworks in place to engage and support people with lived experience of modern slavery in research. Reflexive collaboration between partners is crucial to be able to understand local contexts and different partners’ needs and priorities, such as balancing involvement in research alongside service provision responsibilities. It was recognised that it can take time to build trusted relationships.

The workshop participants discussed the importance of open, equitable and ethical partnerships that are fairly remunerated, alongside the importance of acknowledging and exploring power dynamics that may exist between different partners and individuals, when conducting and promoting the uptake of research that engages survivors of modern slavery.

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2. Agreeing key principles and values

It is useful to think about the key principles and values which can help to guide better engagement and involvement of people with lived experience in research. The team working on developing a modern slavery core outcome set has developed three key principles that seemed to have been particularly welcomed by the participants: trust, transparency and inclusion.

1) Trust – this is an essential ingredient in the relationship between researchers and those with lived experience in projects and can be built in numerous ways, for example by getting agreement on the goals and methods of the project, about the available support, and working out solutions to challenges regarding time, resources, or capabilities and expertise together.

2) Transparency – the need to be open and honest about how the project will work in practice, particularly in relation to the budget, collaboration and partnership.

3) Inclusion – making room for meaningful participation means thinking about barriers (visible and less visible) and actively generating the environment that enables inclusion.

On transparency, participants discussed how this could be expanded to encompass the principle of accountability, something that is particularly important where there are known issues around timeliness of payments and complications regarding contractual arrangements.

3. Ensuring project participants are equitably remunerated

People with lived experience, and those working in collaboration with them, need to be paid fairly and equally for their time working on projects. It is, therefore, essential to talk with partners before applying for funding to ensure that the necessary costs are included in budgets. Costs incurred for survivor involvement are often more than just paying for participation in focus groups, and teams might need to consider the costs of caseworkers, translation costs and wider expenses, such as childcare, to make sure participation is equitable. It is also key to work with organisations to ensure they are able to pay in a manner that works for people with lived experience.

"People with lived experience, and those working in collaboration with them, need to be paid fairly and equally for their time working on projects."

Beyond payment, there might be other opportunities for survivors when taking part in research that project teams can be a strong position to facilitate. Exciting examples of these from Modern Slavery PEC-funded projects included skill building sessions, looking at skills needed to apply for employment, training in research methods, and opportunities to connect people with lived experience to those working in fields they are interested in exploring, such as creative industries.

Insights from experiences thus far are crucial for successful future work. We want to make sure we are systematically assessing and evaluating all these different approaches to engaging with people with lived experience of modern slavery in research, understanding what works in different contexts and sharing this information across the sector. We are also reflecting on how we can consolidate lessonsas funders of research, for example around what constitutes ethical and equitable partnerships in our projects and making sure that we model good practice in survivor renumeration into account when setting budget expectations.

We are committed to making sure people with lived experience play a key part of research we fund, which we set out in our Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Strategy and Action Plan.

Izzy Templer is the Modern Slavery PEC's Research Operations and Communications Manager