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Will our lived experiences matter?


Reflections: The lived experience roundtable, Social Science Showcase 2022

Making a difference through lived experience research means understanding the challenges and opportunities that underpin research with and about people’s lived experiences. Here is our way of promoting an open and collegial learning space for researchers and practitioners doing lived experience research. A roundtable hosted by NCE (Nottingham Civic Exchange) on Thursday 30 June, at the Social Science Showcase 2022 to bring together the experience of researchers from different departments within NTU’s School of Social Science in a collective effort to honour the lived experiences of people in academic research. The roundtable discussion was shaped by contributions from six different members of staff.

Farai Pfende reflected on her experiences of teaching Nursing students and trainee Nursing Associates. She discussed the power barriers and opportunities presented by these students and future nursing professionals in informing, shaping, and accessing lived experiences in nursing education and social science research.

Graham Bowpitt’s work is in the field of Severe and Multiple Disadvantage which has involved research with a team of peer researchers with lived experience. He reflected on his experiences of designing research with peer researchers, gathering and analysing data, and reporting findings. How far does this method hand back control of the research process to people with lived experience?

Julie Kent used her understanding of positionality and multi-partiality* to reflect on the sensitivities and experiences of teaching academic theoretical concepts of identity, social capital, agency, and habitus in childhood with students from widening participation backgrounds. She initiated a discussion of the challenges in exploring the nuances of core perspectives that underpin courses in the sphere of education which have high number of students, particularly from BTec and mature backgrounds.

* Multi-partiality is a practice that supports facilitators in giving equal attention to multiple identities and experiences.

Rich Pickford reflected on his experience of engaging with and supporting the creation of a film about one mother who lived through the economic downturn after the 2010 financial crash up until 2019. He offered the opportunity to consider the challenges and the power of this approach as his provocation for the roundtable.

Clare Lushey shared her experiences of working with peer researchers on the evaluation of the Small Steps Big Changes programme. Clare discussed the challenges and strengths of the peer research methodology, reflecting on employing peer researchers at NTU (Nottingham Trent University), training provided, face-to-face and remote online working, and the benefits of this approach for the evaluation and peer researchers.

Haya Fakoush’s focus was on forced migration research: insider privilege of EuroAmerican white privilege? She reflected on her experiences doing qualitative research with young resettled Syrian refugees in England. She raised questions about privilege doing research within/about migrant communities and prompted discussion of the challenges faced by everyone in this field.

Research is not only behavioural and observational, for social science, it is the lived experiences that are integral to knowledge production. It is important to empower everyone involved in knowledge making to break the inherited barriers and decolonise the research by being accountable and ethical. It is about amplifying the voices of people; it is collegial human interaction with reciprocity in its core. Lived experience research allows us to enter the world of others with integrity to influence social change in health promotion, education, and other societal dimensions that matter to people. We explored the role of participatory action research for addressing the power dynamic challenges in social science research. Participatory research in design hands control to those with lived experience, highlighting the power dynamic challenges and opportunities presented through this research methodology.

It is about accepting that sometimes being uncomfortable is the only way for truly altering knowledge spaces that are dominated by one culture.

Lived experiences also matter for widening participation in higher education not only in admissions but also in teaching. In teaching about children’s rights, living with disparities and critical race theory we can diversify the curriculum but how can we teach an unlived experience? Do we really know the ‘truth’? We hold the intention to facilitate learning that promotes inclusivity and allows different lenses to frame discussions. We endeavour for our learning space to be not only a ‘safe’ space for students but also a ‘brave’ space to express their thoughts and challenge the norm. It is important to invite individual stories and accept that fear is not a position in research, to ensure that safety in learning spaces is not about ensuring comfort. It is about accepting that sometimes being uncomfortable is the only way for truly altering knowledge spaces that are dominated by one culture.

Academic research can sometimes be a place of uncontested privilege, lived experience research and participatory methodologies in social science can challenge the view of reality that is simplified through observational and descriptive research. How can we understand social justice and inequality without lived experiences? And how can participatory research be meaningful without reciprocity? We strive to shape a future of knowledge with a culture of humility and grace, fostering learning spaces that can empower everyone and cherish the value of difference.

For us it is our joint commitment to lived experience research that brought us together. Our discussion has allowed us to voice our own research experience, to create a space for interdisciplinary learning from each other’s lived experience. We invite expression of interest from researchers to join us in our endeavour by contacting NCE. As we move forward, we hope to continue to challenge mainstream assumptions about the unprivileged and hold ourselves accountable in the instances of our privilege.

Nottingham Civic Exchange

Nottingham Civic Exchange has been established by Nottingham Trent University to maximise research, policy and practical impact by bringing together university expertise with partners seeking to address the needs of communities. Nottingham Civic Exchange acts as a resource to look at social and economic issues in new ways. This means facilitating debate, acting as a bridge between research and policy debates, and developing practical projects at a local, city and regional level.

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