Equality in research: food for thought from the Equality Summit

Jul 2, 2024 |3 min read
Sign saying what lessens one of us lessens all of us

I recently had the pleasure of attending the annual Market Research Society Equality Summit, and the message was clear. We need to be doing better to ensure that research is inclusive and genuinely representative of the people it is designed to serve. This responsibility lies with individual researchers and with agencies, and efforts to make research more equal be an ever-evolving process. The wonderful presentations, discussions and general chat left me in a reflective and emboldened space and here are the five key takeaways that I will be sharing and implementing at 2CV:

 

Research participation should be community specific.

While seemingly obvious, it is remarkable how often we apply one-sided recruitment strategies to find research participants. As a sector, I think we have gotten much better at considering community needs in terms of reach, using community leaders, social media and community centres. But where we still sometimes fall short is having a rich understanding of communities in terms of their relationship with participation. Is participation part of the community ethos, or is there scepticism around volunteering to be open and vulnerable? And if participation isn’t normalised, it is up to us to demonstrate that research leads to action down the line.

 

Participants need to feel valued.

Peer researchers are not a new concept. But what was clear from the discussions is that there are some excellent ways to take care of participants that make them want to participate again. We need to trust that participants can understand what we do as researchers, and actively teach them about the world of research and their part in it. We also need to honour their efforts beyond financial incentives, although these remain important in acknowledging people’s contributions. Small touches such as giving participants certificates for completing a little research course, and throwing a little “wrap party” when study findings are released are helpful gestures that leave participants feeling valued and more inclined to encourage other members from their community to take up research opportunities.

 

We need to try every avenue.

Quality research relies on the quality of the sample of people taking part. At 2CV we try and be flexible and resourceful, deploying a range of strategies, but we need to be mindful that this is a changing landscape. Social media can be used to amplify our reach with specific audiences. Neighbourhoods use social media as a community forum and influencers with disabilities often use their platform for social good. There were discussions of how disability influencers have been receptive to requests to post survey links and invitations to participate in research designed to include members of their community.

 

Participation should feel like an individual experience.

Research with lesser-heard voices depends on rapport building between the researcher and the participant. While one-off interactions are typical in research, understanding local, community and cultural contexts requires time and effort on our part. For example, for research that seeks to understand the complex dynamics and interplay of a disability and a person’s identity, we need to ensure we are using early engagement with participants to understand how each individual talks about their disability and mirror this language from then on.

 

We need to continuously challenge our thinking.

What we know today is not what we will know tomorrow. Research should be at the forefront of challenging traditional thinking, and yet over time, we have developed research traditions. Meta described a similar phenomenon in product and service development, having previously believed that visually impaired people would not want to use virtual reality. Instead, through research, they learned that people with visual impairments often rely on VR for escapism, as the visual impairment is a spectrum, and the VR being so close to the face can assist in providing a visual experience that the natural world cannot offer. Instead, Meta is now turning to developing the audio for an even better experience.

 

The summit was a good proverbial “kick up the bum” to stay open-minded, continue to learn and to keep inclusivity at the heart of the research process.