Reflections on using a community-led research methodology to explore experiences of living with food insecurity

Reflections on using a community-led research methodology to explore experiences of living with... Abstract This article explores how community-led research in practice relates to the theory and aspirations of a community-led research methodology and how this approach can provide a unique opportunity to increase our understanding about the lived experiences of food insecurity. As an approach, community-led research has growing influence and relevance for communities, organizations, research commissioners, funders and policy makers. This article provides insights and learning for these stakeholders that we discovered in our experience of the ‘Living with food insecurity’ community-led research project. We draw on a range of sources including: community-led research literature, materials developed to support the project, feedback from the research teams, and reflective conversations between the research commissioner and the research specialist who was engaged to support the process. We start by setting out the context for food insecurity in Scotland and identify the research gap that led to the research project. We then discuss some pertinent research challenges in the context of this project, and explore how each of three distinct communities developed different models of community-led research. Learning from this project suggests that community-led research design needs to embrace divergence and facilitate research partnerships that are flexible, open and find ways to ‘live’ out the principles of community-led research in ways that are meaningful to a particular community and its stakeholders. Introduction As a researcher, evaluator and trainer I am excited about research approaches that are collaborative and empowering and where different participants (researchers, communities, organizations and other stakeholders) pool their experience, knowledge and skills. I was even more excited to be part of a research project with Community Food and Health Scotland1 (CFHS), a team within NHS Health Scotland, which was explicit about wanting to use this type of community-led research approach to explore living with food insecurity. I have used a community-led research approach before but always with just one community. What was distinct about this project was that we were conducting three community-led responses to a common framework of research questions. I was curious to see how the communities would respond and how this would affect the community-led research process. The research involved three distinct Scottish communities: a city-based migrant community, a peripheral housing estate of a rural town and a community coping with extensive post-industrial re-development. CFHS, working with local partners in these communities, wanted to explore what would or could food security look like and mean for people, how this was different from where they are now and what would need to happen in local communities to achieve food security for all? To answer these questions, CFHS wanted to engage with people who were living day to day with food insecurity but who did not access food banks. They wanted to dig deeper into their perceptions, aspirations and experiences. Now that the research is complete, writing this article is an opportunity to reflect on how community-led research in practice relates to its theoretical aspirations. It is also an opportunity to identify learning to inform future applications of this approach. In this article we draw on a range of sources including: community-led research literature, materials developed to support the project, feedback from the research teams, and reflective conversations between the CFHS commissioner and the research specialist. We focus on the community-led research processes that were developed through the ‘Living with food insecurity’ research project. What do we know and not know about living with food insecurity? It is important at this point to provide some background and policy context for the research project and why CFHS decided to use a community-led research approach. In the last few years, food poverty or food insecurity has re-emerged as a major political issue in our society, mainly visible through the increasing numbers of people seeking emergency food aid (NHS Health Scotland, 2015). But, as Dowler (2003) argues, the number of people seeking emergency food aid is only a rough indicator of the extent of food insecurity. She widens the scope by defining food insecurity as ‘the inability to acquire or consume an adequate quality or sufficient quantity of food in socially acceptable ways, or the uncertainty that one will be able to do so’ (p.151). In 2014, CFHS commissioned research into the nature and extent of food poverty/insecurity in Scotland (Douglas et al., 2015). This research included a rapid evidence review of existing quantitative data sets and a small number of qualitative interviews with professionals and community food practitioners. This research identified a lack of a robust measure of food insecurity and endorsed the proposition that the use of food bank statistics was not a good proxy for those living with food insecurity. The research also identified the need for more research into the experiences of people living with food insecurity. A trend towards academic research also means there is a gap in the evidence base on the experiences and aspirations of those living long term with mild, moderate and severe food insecurity from a community perspective. At a policy level, this wider definition of food insecurity is reflected in the publication of The Scottish Government’s vision for a Good Food Nation where it refers to Scotland as a country where ‘people from every walk of life take pride and pleasure in, and benefit from, the food they buy, serve, and eat day by day’ (p. 5, 2014), and more recently, the Scottish Government’s response to the report of the short-life working group on food poverty (2016) confirms a commitment to tackling food poverty as a priority. This research suggests that there is an over-reliance on food bank statistics as a measure of food insecurity, and that we know less about the experiences of people living long term with food insecurity. The ‘Living with food insecurity’ research project was seen as a unique opportunity to start to address this research gap by exploring Dowler’s definition from a community perspective. We would also be looking more specifically at the nuanced experiences of people living with food insecurity who do not use food banks. To help clarify what we meant by people ‘who do not use food banks’ we designed a tool to make the distinction between those living in crisis (those who use food banks) and those living with severe to mild food insecurity. Those who for example skip meals, make compromises and/or who are worried about food (Dowler and Lambie-Mumford, 2015). Another reference point for the research builds on Dowler’s (2003) definition by using the themes enshrined in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights ‘right to food’. This uses the 4As: accessibility, affordability, adequacy and acceptability as a framework for exploring food insecurity. These tools provided a reference point for shared meaning and understanding of food insecurity between the research partners and for helping the research groups to identify research participants. Community-led research – challenges in the context of the research project Community-led research is not a new research idea. Heron (1981), Freire (1982) and others defined and espoused the principles and practices of an approach which continues to inform community research projects today. In brief, community-led or community-based research is conducted by,for and with the participation of community members as opposed to more traditional research on and to the community (Scottish Community Development Centre, 2016). Community-led research aims to advance understanding and knowledge about pertinent issues, influence change and decision-making, and build research skills and capacity (Heron, 1981; Freire, 1982; Macaulay et al., 1999; Van Loon and Mann, 2006; Flicker et al., 2008; Titterton and Smart, 2008). Participation in community-led research leads to people from their ‘community’ becoming co-researchers or community researchers researching local issues and concerns. Crucially, community researchers (CRs is the term used in this project) are involved in the whole research process from research design to practical implementation to analysis and dissemination (Wallerstein and Duran, 2006). With these principles in mind we expected that a community-led research approach would be a positive and respectful way to reach people who could inform us about their experiences of food insecurity while also acknowledging the sensitivities of the topic. We also expected benefits such as better connections and access to the community, the potential to increase local research skills and to develop locally informed responses to the findings. We envisaged challenges in building the research partnerships, ensuring safeguards for research participants and addressing the issue of sustainability beyond the research project. We were also aware of practical challenges such as planning adequate time for the research process. In this next section, we explore these challenges in relation to community research literature. This is not an exhaustive list but it does reflect research in related fields of health disparities. Building research partnerships Macaulay et al. (1999), Wallerstein and Duran (2006), Flicker et al. (2008), and Titterton and Smart (2008) point to the building of mutual research partnerships as the foundation for developing shared understanding of the research process, clarifying roles and responsibilities and creating an equality of partnership. However, the mutuality of these partnerships is a challenge in terms of the respective positions of power that are negotiated or exist between different stakeholders. Macaulay et al. (1999) and Wallerstein and Duran (2006) argue that in a community-researcher relationship, the ‘researcher’ position is likely to have more influence and control over the research because of their greater research knowledge and skills. They make the distinction between an academic partner and the community partner. This is perhaps a limited view of the complexity of the community-led research partnership. For example, they do not see the ‘researcher’ as a non-academic body, nor do they explore any differentials within the community such as a local co-ordinating organization, the local people that are assumed to represent their community as community researchers and as research participants. These more complex partnership relationships imply that not only do different stakeholders have different roles, but they also have different interests or agendas in the research project (Flicker et al., 2008). The issue and influence of funding as a driver for research decision-making is one of these interests; for example, funding linked to local or national policy may steer the research direction, local organizations may be attracted to the availability of funding to drive their own agenda and community members may find themselves caught up in the delivery of other stakeholders’ priorities (Titterton and Smart, 2008). These differences also have implications for the level of participation by the different partners. For example, who decides on the research questions, the research process and who has control over the findings and how they are used? Levels of participation may be an implicit part of research design. What is important in community-led research is that respective roles and levels of participation are made explicit and are explored as part of the research partnership agreement. Flicker et al. (2008) also emphasize that these relationships require significant time to be explored fully. This means considering flexibility to fit with needs and timelines for all the partners. For example, the local organization juggling internal demands such as funding and staff changes, and the needs of the CRs’ priorities in their lives outside of the project. Whilst this discussion puts into perspective the complex relationships involved in community-led research, the implication for this research project was the added challenge from setting up three distinct research partnerships. This was not a factor that was discussed within the literature considered. Ensuring safeguards for CRs and research participants or respondents2 An aspect that flows from the need for clarity of research partnership is the need for trust and respect between different stakeholders (Flicker et al., 2008; Titterton and Smart, 2008). We anticipated that the topic of food insecurity would raise ethical questions about how to engage with vulnerable people about their experience. There are real challenges in how to build trust so people feel comfortable and safe to discuss personal information. Across the three research teams, CRs became aware that some of the people they were interviewing were wary of disclosing personal information, some were embarrassed to discuss food insecurity, some were more optimistic about their situation than the reality of their responses suggested, some distanced themselves to talk about food insecurity experiences of others and some were suspicious of how such information would be used. A primary responsibility of community-led research is to ensure the integrity of the research process (Macaulay et al., 1999; Greenaway and Roberts, 2014) and the protection or safeguards for the community, CRs and the research respondents. Van Loon and Mann (2006) describe a need for ‘facilitating a trustworthy space for safe reflection’ (p129). Unlike other research models, community-led research raises a distinct challenge where CRs assume dual roles (Titterton and Smart, 2008). They may be involved in planning and carrying out the research while also experiencing food insecurity issues themselves. They may become CRs but they may also participate as respondents. This was most evident within the peripheral housing estate to rural town team which involved young mums and single men to engage with others in their peer groups. This group used the term ‘participant researchers’ to indicate this dual role of community researcher and research respondent. The respondents were more likely to experience a ‘trustworthy and safe space’ with their familiar peers but there was also the potential for a blurring of the boundaries between CR and research respondent, or confusion about who was asking the questions and who was answering the questions. CRs were able to reach research respondents. For example, in this study, single men, young mums and asylum seekers and were able to ‘speak’ the language and build trust with research respondents. For the migrant community, this meant speaking the language where CRs interviewed participants in their first language. Whilst there are benefits from CRs familiarity with their community members, there are also disadvantages where this familiarity could lead to a confusion of roles and a potential lack of honest responses. In other words, the ‘trustworthy and safe space’ could be compromised. The need to explore awareness and understanding of the CRs’ role and boundaries, and their relationship with research respondents is a priority within community-led research. CRs need to have the skills to adapt and respond to different situations. Most importantly, they need to understand and communicate to research respondents that their responses are confidential, anonymous and that they can opt-out at any time. Wallerstein and Duran (2006) suggest that groups design their own research protocols, Titterton and Smart (2008) describe a research training programme for developing skills and confidence, and Macaulay et al. (1999) raise the importance of building in a mechanism for adapting to changes and resolving problems as part of an ethics strategy for community-led research. Sustainability beyond the research project The community research literature highlighted concerns about sustainability beyond the research project. Adequate funding is not just an issue of supporting the research process but also funding opportunities to develop recommendations and actions from the research. Beyond funding, Wallerstein and Duran (2006) challenge the assumption that community-led research itself can be a force for change. This has implications for the outcomes from a community-led research project such as how or which recommendations are carried forward and the extent that the local ‘voice’ is taken seriously (Greenaway and Roberts, 2014). Others (Titterton and Smart, 2008) have concerns about raising expectations of change or improved services which are not then carried through, and for sustaining the involvement of community members beyond the research process. It is clear that for community-led research to have impact, it needs to have a strategy beyond the research strategy to take account of local and national decision-making processes for implementing actions. This includes access to further funding but also links to local policy and change initiatives. In the next section we discuss how these challenges impacted on the ‘Living with food insecurity’ research project in practice through the journeys of our three communities. Living with food insecurity – community-led research in action How each of the communities approached and developed their research projects is a story of divergence as each of the research groups or teams developed their own research pathway. From our perspective as the CFHS commissioner and the research specialist, we reflect on what worked well and the challenges we encountered. In the beginning – the research partnerships At the start of the research we focused on establishing local partnerships, clarifying the framework for the research and the different partner roles. CFHS, as the commissioners of the research, initiated the project through local research partnerships which involved three stakeholder groups: the communities, community organizations and CFHS. Figure 1 shows the research partners that were involved and their respective roles in the project. Figure 1 View largeDownload slide Research partners and roles Figure 1 View largeDownload slide Research partners and roles During the preparation stage each community organization prepared a research proposal, in response to a common research brief, which confirmed their commitment to community development approaches and their interest in and work with food insecurity. They each designed a locally relevant research project to explore experiences of food insecurity. The common brief allowed local flexibility within a framework of overarching research questions and helped to clarify roles within the process. CFHS supported the research through funding, guidance and co-ordination; a consultant provided specialist support on the community-led research methodology; community organizations coordinated the research, recruited and supported a team of local CRs to design, carry out and report their findings to local stakeholders. To a greater or lesser extent, these groups made up the three local research teams. In planning and commissioning the research, CFHS hoped to create benefits at different levels: CR’s gaining skills for their own development; Community organizations building a team of CR’s who could go on to do more research locally; Community organizations gaining evidence to develop further work and advocate for support or action to address issues; and CFHS gaining evidence to feed into policy making. The initiation of the city-based Integration Network research team followed our anticipated research pathway. It led to the recruitment of a committed team of CRs. For this team, there was a strong emphasis on clarifying roles, team building and planning their research journey, whereas, the circumstances and context for the other two groups led to different partnership arrangements being negotiated. For these groups, different partnership relationships emerged, which suggested that there might be more than one way to design and carry out a community-led research project. Along the way – how each of the research projects developed Each of the communities and their community organizations developed distinct research projects which reflected their context, their access to research expertise, different methodologies and the CR team and the research respondents. For example, the Integration Network made extensive use of the research skills development and support provided through CFHS, the Community Development Trust involved an existing academic contact and the Healthy Living Network built on their community development links and local video production resources. This meant that from a common starting point, each of the research projects evolved differently. The divergence between the three research teams created an adaptable, and arguably, an empowering space where research decisions were made locally. This flexibility did mean that each team could respond to their local context, opportunities and challenges. What was unknown at the time was how this divergence would affect the overall research findings. Table 1 shows how each of the research teams developed their projects across a number of research factors. Table 1 Different responses by each of the research teams to the research process Research factors/research teams  Integration Network team  Healthy Living Network team  Community Development Trust team  Research focus and respondents  Different ethnic groups, different ages, men and women (28)  Young mums and single men (6–7)  Community members, men/women, different ages (20)  Community Researchers  Team of volunteers (12) from existing projects from different ethnic groups  Small group (5–6) of ‘participant researchers’ from the young mums’ and men’s groups  Small group (4–5) of Board members  CRs involvement in research design, analysis and write up  Team fully involved in research process. Training enabled them to put learning about research design, analysis and reporting directly into practice in their research project  For this team, research design, analysis and write up was an emergent process with CRs involved in small groups that came together for a shared analysis session  Team assisted in the design, analysis and write up through regular meetings with guidance from their academic researcher  Methodology  Initial survey pilot questionnaire for structured interviews followed by revised questions and targeting of groups  Peer group interviews and use of video to record their focus group discussions about their experiences of food insecurity  Interviews and small focus groups  Support – CFHS staff and research specialist  ‘Hands-on’ – followed a programme of training to develop research skills and expertise, and support from CFHS  ‘Medium touch’ – dipped into the training resources to guide research process and liaised with CFHS about progress  ‘Light touch’ – linked to CFHS at the start of project and as the final report was written  Support – other  Existing skills of Integration Network staff  Community development links and local video production resources  Existing academic link to lead and support research project  Research factors/research teams  Integration Network team  Healthy Living Network team  Community Development Trust team  Research focus and respondents  Different ethnic groups, different ages, men and women (28)  Young mums and single men (6–7)  Community members, men/women, different ages (20)  Community Researchers  Team of volunteers (12) from existing projects from different ethnic groups  Small group (5–6) of ‘participant researchers’ from the young mums’ and men’s groups  Small group (4–5) of Board members  CRs involvement in research design, analysis and write up  Team fully involved in research process. Training enabled them to put learning about research design, analysis and reporting directly into practice in their research project  For this team, research design, analysis and write up was an emergent process with CRs involved in small groups that came together for a shared analysis session  Team assisted in the design, analysis and write up through regular meetings with guidance from their academic researcher  Methodology  Initial survey pilot questionnaire for structured interviews followed by revised questions and targeting of groups  Peer group interviews and use of video to record their focus group discussions about their experiences of food insecurity  Interviews and small focus groups  Support – CFHS staff and research specialist  ‘Hands-on’ – followed a programme of training to develop research skills and expertise, and support from CFHS  ‘Medium touch’ – dipped into the training resources to guide research process and liaised with CFHS about progress  ‘Light touch’ – linked to CFHS at the start of project and as the final report was written  Support – other  Existing skills of Integration Network staff  Community development links and local video production resources  Existing academic link to lead and support research project  Table 1 Different responses by each of the research teams to the research process Research factors/research teams  Integration Network team  Healthy Living Network team  Community Development Trust team  Research focus and respondents  Different ethnic groups, different ages, men and women (28)  Young mums and single men (6–7)  Community members, men/women, different ages (20)  Community Researchers  Team of volunteers (12) from existing projects from different ethnic groups  Small group (5–6) of ‘participant researchers’ from the young mums’ and men’s groups  Small group (4–5) of Board members  CRs involvement in research design, analysis and write up  Team fully involved in research process. Training enabled them to put learning about research design, analysis and reporting directly into practice in their research project  For this team, research design, analysis and write up was an emergent process with CRs involved in small groups that came together for a shared analysis session  Team assisted in the design, analysis and write up through regular meetings with guidance from their academic researcher  Methodology  Initial survey pilot questionnaire for structured interviews followed by revised questions and targeting of groups  Peer group interviews and use of video to record their focus group discussions about their experiences of food insecurity  Interviews and small focus groups  Support – CFHS staff and research specialist  ‘Hands-on’ – followed a programme of training to develop research skills and expertise, and support from CFHS  ‘Medium touch’ – dipped into the training resources to guide research process and liaised with CFHS about progress  ‘Light touch’ – linked to CFHS at the start of project and as the final report was written  Support – other  Existing skills of Integration Network staff  Community development links and local video production resources  Existing academic link to lead and support research project  Research factors/research teams  Integration Network team  Healthy Living Network team  Community Development Trust team  Research focus and respondents  Different ethnic groups, different ages, men and women (28)  Young mums and single men (6–7)  Community members, men/women, different ages (20)  Community Researchers  Team of volunteers (12) from existing projects from different ethnic groups  Small group (5–6) of ‘participant researchers’ from the young mums’ and men’s groups  Small group (4–5) of Board members  CRs involvement in research design, analysis and write up  Team fully involved in research process. Training enabled them to put learning about research design, analysis and reporting directly into practice in their research project  For this team, research design, analysis and write up was an emergent process with CRs involved in small groups that came together for a shared analysis session  Team assisted in the design, analysis and write up through regular meetings with guidance from their academic researcher  Methodology  Initial survey pilot questionnaire for structured interviews followed by revised questions and targeting of groups  Peer group interviews and use of video to record their focus group discussions about their experiences of food insecurity  Interviews and small focus groups  Support – CFHS staff and research specialist  ‘Hands-on’ – followed a programme of training to develop research skills and expertise, and support from CFHS  ‘Medium touch’ – dipped into the training resources to guide research process and liaised with CFHS about progress  ‘Light touch’ – linked to CFHS at the start of project and as the final report was written  Support – other  Existing skills of Integration Network staff  Community development links and local video production resources  Existing academic link to lead and support research project  Each team’s use of support and guidance had an influence on the partnerships that developed from a more ‘hands on’ relationship with the Integration Network to what could be described as a ‘light touch’ relationship with the Community Development Trust, and to a lesser extent, the Healthy Living Network. The level of communication and feedback from the ‘light touch’ teams made it more difficult to track the progress of the research and to respond to issues that emerged such as staff changes or re-focusing the research plan. Not surprisingly, the level of communication and progress tracking was more effective with the Integration Network (the more ‘hands on’ team) and led to a more iterative research process where the research team learned and adapted as they went. As the team that drew most on the support available to guide their research journey, there was more evidence that they developed the research skills and confidence associated with community-led research. The counter to this was that this more ‘hands-on’ team made higher demands on the CFHS staff and research specialist’s time. This might reflect less research expertise of this team whereas the other teams had one or two members with previous research experience and access to other sources of support. Feedback from the Integration Network team suggested a high level of benefits in terms of team building, skills development and increased confidence in applying skills. What helped my learning was – ‘learning more about food security; discussion in groups; listening to other people’s ideas and views; enjoyed the way we worked together as a team – we gelled right from the start’. (CR comments, Integration Network team) ‘Everybody in the community is suffering from this food insecurity so now we are getting the knowledge here and we are getting the courage to ask people what are their issues relating to food security, what are their special concerns and what are their needs.’ (CR comment, Integration Network team) These comments fit with the findings from Titterton and Smart (2008) who highlighted the empowering aspects as a result of skills development. For this team, there appeared to be a level of consciousness about food insecurity and the need to find out about the issues for the people in their communities. Their comments also suggest that they understood their role and felt equipped to carry out local research. An unintended outcome from the project support element was the generation of learning materials and resources for sharing more widely. During the practical research stage each of the teams conducted their research to suit their needs and interests. The Integration Network piloted an early survey which provided interview practice and built confidence in the CR role. They also learned from the pilot, revised their questions and planned to target a more relevant audience. The Healthy Living Network had initial problems in arranging a suitable time for everyone to meet which led to working in two sub-groups. The two groups came together for communal meals to analyse and review their findings. They used a peer approach where ‘participant researchers’ asked their questions of their peers and also contributed as participants drawing on their own experiences of food insecurity. This team recorded their peer group discussions and used video to record their experiences of the food issues they faced and the strategies they used. The Community Development Trust took a different approach to food insecurity. In their research they focused on discussing healthy eating rather than food security. This team used interviews to learn about experiences and strategies for healthy living and related their findings to life style, life changes and gender differences. This approach to food insecurity might reflect the role of the Community Development Trust in promoting healthy living or might be symptomatic of a lack of shared understanding of the project. In the following comment, one of the CRs suggests that they did not fully understand what was involved at the start, but through the research process they were more interested in food insecurity issues. ‘(I) didn’t really know what to expect – I feel that I have more information and I am keen to find out more about this middle ground (between food banks/crisis and healthy eating) I feel energized and looking forward to making a difference.’ (CR comment, Community Development Trust team) It may be that CRs understanding of and approaches to ‘food insecurity’ across the three teams depended on how well CRs personally identified with the issues and experiences of food insecurity. The CRs from the Integration Network and the participant researchers from the Healthy Living Network teams identified with the target respondents and had personal experiences of food insecurity. This may have enabled them to be more aware and confident to explore the topic with others, whereas the CRs from the Community Development Trust were perhaps more removed from current experiences of food insecurity. The challenges at this stage for us were mainly related to the tracking and facilitation of these different research pathways. What seemed to be happening was that three different research projects were emerging and we were uncertain how this would affect the overall findings of the research. Would there be common themes? Could these different research projects come together? How valid would the overall research findings be? Another challenge was that different timelines for each of the teams were emerging which limited the scope for sharing between the three teams and left uncertainty around how or when projects would be completed. In the end – outcomes and benefits All of the teams did complete their research and reported on their findings. The Healthy Living Network team also included a video of their research. The reports provided valuable context and specific findings about food insecurity in the three communities, even though the research was small scale. A sharing and dissemination event was held where CFHS presented the overall findings and learning from the project. As well as the community organizations and CRs meeting each other, there was an opportunity for the teams to make connections with external stakeholders including funders, policy makers and academics. To address the challenge of sustainability, the commissioner also set aside a small amount of funding for which the community organizations could submit proposals to disseminate their findings locally and/or develop work to act on these, once reports had been finalized. Two community partners accessed the funding available from the commissioner to take their work forward, one of whom also used their report to support a successful application for Scottish Government funding to develop another bespoke project to address food insecurity. The third community organization has been focused on major facilities development but plans to return to the issue of food insecurity. Overall, the topical nature and political interest in the researched issue have further supported ‘sustainability’ as new funding opportunities emerged as we write this article. One of our challenges related to the small sample sizes and how to bring together the qualitative findings from each of the communities. These small-scale research projects provided an insight on the experiences of living with food insecurity in three distinct communities and helped to ‘colour-in’ some of the gaps in current research about food insecurity namely the lived experiences from community members. Time and ethical challenges meant that none of the groups included children or young people. There were also differences in the type of research data that was collected. For example, the Integration Network team collected hand notes, the Healthy Living Network collected interview recordings and video and the Community Development Trust used transcribed interviews. Each of these forms of data raised challenges in data analysis from hand notes being influenced by what the note taker records or more importantly what is missed out, to knowing how to interpret video evidence, to transcripts producing an overwhelming quantity of data. These challenges increase the demands for analysis skills and the time needed to go through the analysis process. Time, at what is arguably the more difficult end of the research process, is often limited and liable to changes such as CRs dropping out or staff changes. Reflections on the benefits and challenges of the research for the Healthy Living Network team highlighted how it had been a ‘good’ challenge: ‘the whole idea of community researching was good to do as we don’t normally work in this way – seeing the community members as collaborators and co-researchers’ (project coordinator). Although the team use a community development approach and were aware of the community-led research model, they had not used it before. The ‘Living with food insecurity’ research seemed to come at a good time for them in that they had a group of people who were concerned about food insecurity and really liked the idea of being involved as co-researchers. They highlighted that for future projects more setting up time and initial guidance and support on ‘how to do it’ was needed, such as working on preparation with co-ordinating teams before going operational. Although support and guidance were available to this group, their response suggests that they may not have been aware of this. This may be due to the fact that other individuals such as the videographer joined the co-ordinating team without having had any involvement in the original discussions. Their response also suggests that the lead-in time for a community-led research project may be considerably longer than anticipated, and take disproportionately longer than the research itself. Another challenge, which for many community-led research projects becomes central to the successful completion of projects, is the practical issue of time (Flicker et al., 2008). Sufficient time for planning and negotiating partnership at the start, flexible time during research to adapt to the needs of the community and time beyond the research for acting on the findings. In this project, ‘time’ related to how the different needs and interests of each of the research team partners were accommodated, and thus the need to work with different timelines, especially where the individual needs of the CRs such as the young mums, the single men and the CRs from the migrant communities as they were exposed to life events and demands that needed to take priority over their participation in the research project. Despite these challenges, each of the research teams gained valuable insights into issues of food insecurity for some of the people living in their community. For CFHS, the research provided three snapshots of ‘Living with food insecurity’ in three distinct Scottish communities. There is also evidence to expand understanding of the lived experience which goes some way towards complementing existing research. There is potential for further research about the experiences of children and young people, and for creating snapshots of experience from other communities. It would be helpful if small-scale studies into specific communities were brought together to provide a broader picture of experiences of living with food insecurity. The challenges that we encountered were not necessarily unique to this project, but they raised different issues for each of the communities. It was also clear that the challenges of partnership building, ensuring safeguards and sustainability were not separate but overlapping. For example, building the research partnership not only involves clarifying and agreeing research roles and processes but also implications for how trust is established and community representatives are supported and what follows when the research is completed. What also emerged was different models of partnership. The ‘hands on’ model, where the potential for better communication can lead to clarity and understanding of roles, and increased guidance and support can lead to skills development and increased community confidence. However, this model does make higher demands on all the partners and there is the potential for some partners to have more influence over the research process than others. In the ‘light touch’ model there may be more scope to explore different research pathways such as the peer approach used by the Healthy Living Initiative group. But there is also potential for roles and expectations of what the community-led research process involves to be unclear. We are not arguing for a ‘right’ way, but suggest that projects planning community-led research should be aware of these choices and decisions. Conclusion At the outset of this project we expected there would be a need for flexibility to adapt to the needs of each of the teams. Each of the teams developed their own research journey. Arguably, this is what community-led research is all about – community groups carving their own pathway. It is clear that using a community-led research approach requires partnership and commitment from everyone involved. It is time and resource hungry. Initially, as shown in the ‘Living with food insecurity’ project, community-led research is most likely to be small scale as community researchers and organizations develop their skills and confidence. However, from this first iteration there is potential for further research; for example, the Integration Network team’s interest to do larger scale work. The research ‘team’ that is created provides a rich mix of community knowledge, research expertise, skills and influence. The community researchers in this project brought their knowledge, connections and lived experiences to the research. It was their participation that enabled us to reach some of our target audience. They also gained skills and enthusiasm for getting more involved as co-researchers for their organization, by joining other groups and by encouraging others from their community to get involved. Community-led research as a methodology has the potential to get to the places where other research methods may not. For us, the learning we take forward is that community-led research needs to embrace this divergence and facilitate research partnerships that are flexible and open and that find ways to ‘live’ out the principles of community-led research. For the other partners involved in community-led research we offer the following insights: For Community Researchers or participant researchers – Have a go, the role does not require previous skills or knowledge but a willingness to learn through training, practice and being part of a team. There are also benefits. CRs gain skills and confidence and become more connected to the experiences of people living in their community. Just be aware of what’s involved and how much time it will take. For community organizations – Have a clear understanding of what community-led research involves and your role as a key co-ordinating partner or gatekeeper in the research process. Ensure opportunities for communication and process review to resolve issues or challenges as they emerge. Take advantage of training and support and be aware that community-led research takes time. For community-led research commissioners or funders – Plan for divergence, flexibility and the real-life timelines for CRs, communities and community organizations, especially when there are multiple research teams. Be aware that community-led research takes time and that different teams are likely to follow different timelines. Where research teams are dispersed geographically these challenges are increased. There is also scope to facilitate connections between research teams and opportunities for shared learning. For policy makers – In this research, the research teams may generate findings which have cross policy area implications. The language used may be less academic, but it might well reveal insights and perspectives often not revealed by research from external investigators. And, finally, the voice of those with lived experience brings a reality to policy discourse that is not illuminated by statistics. In this article we have focused on the community-led research approach that emerged from the ‘Living with food insecurity’ research project. A complete view of the research can be found on the Community Food and Health Scotland website (2016). This includes the research reports from each of the communities involved, research summaries and the support resources that were developed. Acknowledgements We would like to thank the co-operation and commitment of the Community Researchers and the organizations involved in the ‘Living with food insecurity’ research project. The ‘Living with food insecurity’ research was funded by NHS Health Scotland. Footnotes 1 CFHS, was established (originally known as the Scottish Community Diet Project) to ensure that everyone in Scotland has the opportunity, ability and confidence to access a healthy and acceptable diet. 2 Research ‘participant’ is a better term to use within community-led research as it acknowledges an active involvement but to distinguish Community Researchers from research participants in this article we will use the term ‘respondent’. References Community Food and Health Scotland ( 2016) Living with food insecurity – reports, summaries and resources used for supporting the community-led research approach, accessed at: http://www.communityfoodandhealth.org.uk/2016/communityled-research-food-security-insecurity/ (2 February 2016). Douglas, F., Ejebu, O.-Z., Garcia, A., et al.  . ( 2015) The nature and extent of food poverty/insecurity in Scotland, NHS Health Scotland, accessed at: http://www.healthscotland.com/documents/25717.aspx, (1 November 2016). Dowler, E. ( 2003) Food and poverty in Britain: rights and responsibilities, in Dowler E. and Jones Finer C., eds, Welfare of Food: Rights and Responsibilities in a Changing World , Wiley-Blackwell, Oxford, pp. 140– 159. Dowler, E. and Lambie-Mumford, H. ( 2015) How can households eat in austerity? Challenges for social policy in the UK, Social Policy and Society , 14 ( 3), 417– 428. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Flicker, S., Savan, B., McGrath, M., et al.   ( 2008) ‘If you could change one thing …’ What community-based researchers wish they could have done differently, Community Development Journal , 43 ( 2), 239– 253. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Freire, P. ( 1982) Creating alternative research methods: learning to do it by doing it, in Hall B., Gillette A. and Tandon R., eds, Creating Knowledge: A Monopoly – Participatory Research in Development , Society for Participatory Research in Asia, New Delhi, pp. 29– 37. Greenaway, L. and Roberts, B. ( 2014) The policy context: user involvement – a case study in health and community settings, in Exploring the Dynamics of Personal, Professional and Interprofessional Ethics , Policy Press, Bristol, pp. 53– 68. Heron, J. ( 1981) Experiential research methodology, in Reason P. and Rowan J., eds, Human Inquiry – A Source Book of New Paradigm Research , John Wiley and Sons, Chichester, pp. 153– 166. Macaulay, A., Commanda, L., Freeman, W., et al.   ( 1999) Participatory research maximizes community and lay involvement, British Medical Journal , 319, 774– 778. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS PubMed  NHS Health Scotland ( 2015) Position statement on food poverty, accessed at: http://www.healthscotland.scot/media/1157/food-poverty-statement-11-15.pdf (22 December 2016). Scottish Community Development Centre ( 2016), Action research by, in and with communities – a practical guide to community-led action research, accessed at: http://www.scdc.org.uk/what/community-led-action-research/ARC/ (1 December 2016). The Scottish Government ( 2014) Recipe for success: Scotland’s National Food and Drink Policy – Becoming a Good Food Nation, accessed at: http://www.gov.scot/resource/0045/00453219.pdf (25 November 2016). The Scottish Government ( 2016) Scottish government response to the report of the short-life working group on food poverty, accessed at: https://beta.gov.scot/publications/food-poverty-response-to-working-group/Scottish%20Government%20response%20to%20Food%20Poverty%20Short-Life%20Working%20Group%20Nov%202016.pdf?inline=true (22 December 2016). Titterton, M. and Smart, H. ( 2008) Can participatory research be a route to empowerment? A case study of a disadvantaged Scottish community, Community Development Journal , 43, 52– 64. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Van Loon, A. and Mann, S. ( 2006) Development of community partnerships, in Koch T. and Kralik D., eds, Participatory action research in health care , Blackwell Publishing, Oxford, pp. 121– 136. Wallerstein, B. and Duran, B. ( 2006) Using community-based participatory research to address health disparities, Health Promotion Practice , 7 ( 3), 312– 323. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS PubMed  Author notes Lesley Greenaway is an independent researcher, facilitator and trainer who focusses on developing customized evaluation projects, and building organizational capacity in evaluation and research. Her experience comes from twenty-five years working in the voluntary and community sectors. She is an Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Dundee where she completed her doctoral studies through the School of Education and Social Work, with a focus on Evaluation that Empowers. Jacqui McDowell has a development role, promoting knowledge sharing, building evidence and contributing to policy and practice development in tackling health inequalities and food insecurity. This includes supporting the development of self-evaluation capacity and commissioning research. A non-health professional working in the NHS, she has a background in the voluntary and community sector, with a particular emphasis on social justice, quality improvement and evaluation. © Oxford University Press and Community Development Journal. 2017 All rights reserved. For permissions, please email: journals.permissions@oup.com http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Community Development Journal Oxford University Press

Reflections on using a community-led research methodology to explore experiences of living with food insecurity

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© Oxford University Press and Community Development Journal. 2017 All rights reserved. For permissions, please email: journals.permissions@oup.com
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Abstract

Abstract This article explores how community-led research in practice relates to the theory and aspirations of a community-led research methodology and how this approach can provide a unique opportunity to increase our understanding about the lived experiences of food insecurity. As an approach, community-led research has growing influence and relevance for communities, organizations, research commissioners, funders and policy makers. This article provides insights and learning for these stakeholders that we discovered in our experience of the ‘Living with food insecurity’ community-led research project. We draw on a range of sources including: community-led research literature, materials developed to support the project, feedback from the research teams, and reflective conversations between the research commissioner and the research specialist who was engaged to support the process. We start by setting out the context for food insecurity in Scotland and identify the research gap that led to the research project. We then discuss some pertinent research challenges in the context of this project, and explore how each of three distinct communities developed different models of community-led research. Learning from this project suggests that community-led research design needs to embrace divergence and facilitate research partnerships that are flexible, open and find ways to ‘live’ out the principles of community-led research in ways that are meaningful to a particular community and its stakeholders. Introduction As a researcher, evaluator and trainer I am excited about research approaches that are collaborative and empowering and where different participants (researchers, communities, organizations and other stakeholders) pool their experience, knowledge and skills. I was even more excited to be part of a research project with Community Food and Health Scotland1 (CFHS), a team within NHS Health Scotland, which was explicit about wanting to use this type of community-led research approach to explore living with food insecurity. I have used a community-led research approach before but always with just one community. What was distinct about this project was that we were conducting three community-led responses to a common framework of research questions. I was curious to see how the communities would respond and how this would affect the community-led research process. The research involved three distinct Scottish communities: a city-based migrant community, a peripheral housing estate of a rural town and a community coping with extensive post-industrial re-development. CFHS, working with local partners in these communities, wanted to explore what would or could food security look like and mean for people, how this was different from where they are now and what would need to happen in local communities to achieve food security for all? To answer these questions, CFHS wanted to engage with people who were living day to day with food insecurity but who did not access food banks. They wanted to dig deeper into their perceptions, aspirations and experiences. Now that the research is complete, writing this article is an opportunity to reflect on how community-led research in practice relates to its theoretical aspirations. It is also an opportunity to identify learning to inform future applications of this approach. In this article we draw on a range of sources including: community-led research literature, materials developed to support the project, feedback from the research teams, and reflective conversations between the CFHS commissioner and the research specialist. We focus on the community-led research processes that were developed through the ‘Living with food insecurity’ research project. What do we know and not know about living with food insecurity? It is important at this point to provide some background and policy context for the research project and why CFHS decided to use a community-led research approach. In the last few years, food poverty or food insecurity has re-emerged as a major political issue in our society, mainly visible through the increasing numbers of people seeking emergency food aid (NHS Health Scotland, 2015). But, as Dowler (2003) argues, the number of people seeking emergency food aid is only a rough indicator of the extent of food insecurity. She widens the scope by defining food insecurity as ‘the inability to acquire or consume an adequate quality or sufficient quantity of food in socially acceptable ways, or the uncertainty that one will be able to do so’ (p.151). In 2014, CFHS commissioned research into the nature and extent of food poverty/insecurity in Scotland (Douglas et al., 2015). This research included a rapid evidence review of existing quantitative data sets and a small number of qualitative interviews with professionals and community food practitioners. This research identified a lack of a robust measure of food insecurity and endorsed the proposition that the use of food bank statistics was not a good proxy for those living with food insecurity. The research also identified the need for more research into the experiences of people living with food insecurity. A trend towards academic research also means there is a gap in the evidence base on the experiences and aspirations of those living long term with mild, moderate and severe food insecurity from a community perspective. At a policy level, this wider definition of food insecurity is reflected in the publication of The Scottish Government’s vision for a Good Food Nation where it refers to Scotland as a country where ‘people from every walk of life take pride and pleasure in, and benefit from, the food they buy, serve, and eat day by day’ (p. 5, 2014), and more recently, the Scottish Government’s response to the report of the short-life working group on food poverty (2016) confirms a commitment to tackling food poverty as a priority. This research suggests that there is an over-reliance on food bank statistics as a measure of food insecurity, and that we know less about the experiences of people living long term with food insecurity. The ‘Living with food insecurity’ research project was seen as a unique opportunity to start to address this research gap by exploring Dowler’s definition from a community perspective. We would also be looking more specifically at the nuanced experiences of people living with food insecurity who do not use food banks. To help clarify what we meant by people ‘who do not use food banks’ we designed a tool to make the distinction between those living in crisis (those who use food banks) and those living with severe to mild food insecurity. Those who for example skip meals, make compromises and/or who are worried about food (Dowler and Lambie-Mumford, 2015). Another reference point for the research builds on Dowler’s (2003) definition by using the themes enshrined in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights ‘right to food’. This uses the 4As: accessibility, affordability, adequacy and acceptability as a framework for exploring food insecurity. These tools provided a reference point for shared meaning and understanding of food insecurity between the research partners and for helping the research groups to identify research participants. Community-led research – challenges in the context of the research project Community-led research is not a new research idea. Heron (1981), Freire (1982) and others defined and espoused the principles and practices of an approach which continues to inform community research projects today. In brief, community-led or community-based research is conducted by,for and with the participation of community members as opposed to more traditional research on and to the community (Scottish Community Development Centre, 2016). Community-led research aims to advance understanding and knowledge about pertinent issues, influence change and decision-making, and build research skills and capacity (Heron, 1981; Freire, 1982; Macaulay et al., 1999; Van Loon and Mann, 2006; Flicker et al., 2008; Titterton and Smart, 2008). Participation in community-led research leads to people from their ‘community’ becoming co-researchers or community researchers researching local issues and concerns. Crucially, community researchers (CRs is the term used in this project) are involved in the whole research process from research design to practical implementation to analysis and dissemination (Wallerstein and Duran, 2006). With these principles in mind we expected that a community-led research approach would be a positive and respectful way to reach people who could inform us about their experiences of food insecurity while also acknowledging the sensitivities of the topic. We also expected benefits such as better connections and access to the community, the potential to increase local research skills and to develop locally informed responses to the findings. We envisaged challenges in building the research partnerships, ensuring safeguards for research participants and addressing the issue of sustainability beyond the research project. We were also aware of practical challenges such as planning adequate time for the research process. In this next section, we explore these challenges in relation to community research literature. This is not an exhaustive list but it does reflect research in related fields of health disparities. Building research partnerships Macaulay et al. (1999), Wallerstein and Duran (2006), Flicker et al. (2008), and Titterton and Smart (2008) point to the building of mutual research partnerships as the foundation for developing shared understanding of the research process, clarifying roles and responsibilities and creating an equality of partnership. However, the mutuality of these partnerships is a challenge in terms of the respective positions of power that are negotiated or exist between different stakeholders. Macaulay et al. (1999) and Wallerstein and Duran (2006) argue that in a community-researcher relationship, the ‘researcher’ position is likely to have more influence and control over the research because of their greater research knowledge and skills. They make the distinction between an academic partner and the community partner. This is perhaps a limited view of the complexity of the community-led research partnership. For example, they do not see the ‘researcher’ as a non-academic body, nor do they explore any differentials within the community such as a local co-ordinating organization, the local people that are assumed to represent their community as community researchers and as research participants. These more complex partnership relationships imply that not only do different stakeholders have different roles, but they also have different interests or agendas in the research project (Flicker et al., 2008). The issue and influence of funding as a driver for research decision-making is one of these interests; for example, funding linked to local or national policy may steer the research direction, local organizations may be attracted to the availability of funding to drive their own agenda and community members may find themselves caught up in the delivery of other stakeholders’ priorities (Titterton and Smart, 2008). These differences also have implications for the level of participation by the different partners. For example, who decides on the research questions, the research process and who has control over the findings and how they are used? Levels of participation may be an implicit part of research design. What is important in community-led research is that respective roles and levels of participation are made explicit and are explored as part of the research partnership agreement. Flicker et al. (2008) also emphasize that these relationships require significant time to be explored fully. This means considering flexibility to fit with needs and timelines for all the partners. For example, the local organization juggling internal demands such as funding and staff changes, and the needs of the CRs’ priorities in their lives outside of the project. Whilst this discussion puts into perspective the complex relationships involved in community-led research, the implication for this research project was the added challenge from setting up three distinct research partnerships. This was not a factor that was discussed within the literature considered. Ensuring safeguards for CRs and research participants or respondents2 An aspect that flows from the need for clarity of research partnership is the need for trust and respect between different stakeholders (Flicker et al., 2008; Titterton and Smart, 2008). We anticipated that the topic of food insecurity would raise ethical questions about how to engage with vulnerable people about their experience. There are real challenges in how to build trust so people feel comfortable and safe to discuss personal information. Across the three research teams, CRs became aware that some of the people they were interviewing were wary of disclosing personal information, some were embarrassed to discuss food insecurity, some were more optimistic about their situation than the reality of their responses suggested, some distanced themselves to talk about food insecurity experiences of others and some were suspicious of how such information would be used. A primary responsibility of community-led research is to ensure the integrity of the research process (Macaulay et al., 1999; Greenaway and Roberts, 2014) and the protection or safeguards for the community, CRs and the research respondents. Van Loon and Mann (2006) describe a need for ‘facilitating a trustworthy space for safe reflection’ (p129). Unlike other research models, community-led research raises a distinct challenge where CRs assume dual roles (Titterton and Smart, 2008). They may be involved in planning and carrying out the research while also experiencing food insecurity issues themselves. They may become CRs but they may also participate as respondents. This was most evident within the peripheral housing estate to rural town team which involved young mums and single men to engage with others in their peer groups. This group used the term ‘participant researchers’ to indicate this dual role of community researcher and research respondent. The respondents were more likely to experience a ‘trustworthy and safe space’ with their familiar peers but there was also the potential for a blurring of the boundaries between CR and research respondent, or confusion about who was asking the questions and who was answering the questions. CRs were able to reach research respondents. For example, in this study, single men, young mums and asylum seekers and were able to ‘speak’ the language and build trust with research respondents. For the migrant community, this meant speaking the language where CRs interviewed participants in their first language. Whilst there are benefits from CRs familiarity with their community members, there are also disadvantages where this familiarity could lead to a confusion of roles and a potential lack of honest responses. In other words, the ‘trustworthy and safe space’ could be compromised. The need to explore awareness and understanding of the CRs’ role and boundaries, and their relationship with research respondents is a priority within community-led research. CRs need to have the skills to adapt and respond to different situations. Most importantly, they need to understand and communicate to research respondents that their responses are confidential, anonymous and that they can opt-out at any time. Wallerstein and Duran (2006) suggest that groups design their own research protocols, Titterton and Smart (2008) describe a research training programme for developing skills and confidence, and Macaulay et al. (1999) raise the importance of building in a mechanism for adapting to changes and resolving problems as part of an ethics strategy for community-led research. Sustainability beyond the research project The community research literature highlighted concerns about sustainability beyond the research project. Adequate funding is not just an issue of supporting the research process but also funding opportunities to develop recommendations and actions from the research. Beyond funding, Wallerstein and Duran (2006) challenge the assumption that community-led research itself can be a force for change. This has implications for the outcomes from a community-led research project such as how or which recommendations are carried forward and the extent that the local ‘voice’ is taken seriously (Greenaway and Roberts, 2014). Others (Titterton and Smart, 2008) have concerns about raising expectations of change or improved services which are not then carried through, and for sustaining the involvement of community members beyond the research process. It is clear that for community-led research to have impact, it needs to have a strategy beyond the research strategy to take account of local and national decision-making processes for implementing actions. This includes access to further funding but also links to local policy and change initiatives. In the next section we discuss how these challenges impacted on the ‘Living with food insecurity’ research project in practice through the journeys of our three communities. Living with food insecurity – community-led research in action How each of the communities approached and developed their research projects is a story of divergence as each of the research groups or teams developed their own research pathway. From our perspective as the CFHS commissioner and the research specialist, we reflect on what worked well and the challenges we encountered. In the beginning – the research partnerships At the start of the research we focused on establishing local partnerships, clarifying the framework for the research and the different partner roles. CFHS, as the commissioners of the research, initiated the project through local research partnerships which involved three stakeholder groups: the communities, community organizations and CFHS. Figure 1 shows the research partners that were involved and their respective roles in the project. Figure 1 View largeDownload slide Research partners and roles Figure 1 View largeDownload slide Research partners and roles During the preparation stage each community organization prepared a research proposal, in response to a common research brief, which confirmed their commitment to community development approaches and their interest in and work with food insecurity. They each designed a locally relevant research project to explore experiences of food insecurity. The common brief allowed local flexibility within a framework of overarching research questions and helped to clarify roles within the process. CFHS supported the research through funding, guidance and co-ordination; a consultant provided specialist support on the community-led research methodology; community organizations coordinated the research, recruited and supported a team of local CRs to design, carry out and report their findings to local stakeholders. To a greater or lesser extent, these groups made up the three local research teams. In planning and commissioning the research, CFHS hoped to create benefits at different levels: CR’s gaining skills for their own development; Community organizations building a team of CR’s who could go on to do more research locally; Community organizations gaining evidence to develop further work and advocate for support or action to address issues; and CFHS gaining evidence to feed into policy making. The initiation of the city-based Integration Network research team followed our anticipated research pathway. It led to the recruitment of a committed team of CRs. For this team, there was a strong emphasis on clarifying roles, team building and planning their research journey, whereas, the circumstances and context for the other two groups led to different partnership arrangements being negotiated. For these groups, different partnership relationships emerged, which suggested that there might be more than one way to design and carry out a community-led research project. Along the way – how each of the research projects developed Each of the communities and their community organizations developed distinct research projects which reflected their context, their access to research expertise, different methodologies and the CR team and the research respondents. For example, the Integration Network made extensive use of the research skills development and support provided through CFHS, the Community Development Trust involved an existing academic contact and the Healthy Living Network built on their community development links and local video production resources. This meant that from a common starting point, each of the research projects evolved differently. The divergence between the three research teams created an adaptable, and arguably, an empowering space where research decisions were made locally. This flexibility did mean that each team could respond to their local context, opportunities and challenges. What was unknown at the time was how this divergence would affect the overall research findings. Table 1 shows how each of the research teams developed their projects across a number of research factors. Table 1 Different responses by each of the research teams to the research process Research factors/research teams  Integration Network team  Healthy Living Network team  Community Development Trust team  Research focus and respondents  Different ethnic groups, different ages, men and women (28)  Young mums and single men (6–7)  Community members, men/women, different ages (20)  Community Researchers  Team of volunteers (12) from existing projects from different ethnic groups  Small group (5–6) of ‘participant researchers’ from the young mums’ and men’s groups  Small group (4–5) of Board members  CRs involvement in research design, analysis and write up  Team fully involved in research process. Training enabled them to put learning about research design, analysis and reporting directly into practice in their research project  For this team, research design, analysis and write up was an emergent process with CRs involved in small groups that came together for a shared analysis session  Team assisted in the design, analysis and write up through regular meetings with guidance from their academic researcher  Methodology  Initial survey pilot questionnaire for structured interviews followed by revised questions and targeting of groups  Peer group interviews and use of video to record their focus group discussions about their experiences of food insecurity  Interviews and small focus groups  Support – CFHS staff and research specialist  ‘Hands-on’ – followed a programme of training to develop research skills and expertise, and support from CFHS  ‘Medium touch’ – dipped into the training resources to guide research process and liaised with CFHS about progress  ‘Light touch’ – linked to CFHS at the start of project and as the final report was written  Support – other  Existing skills of Integration Network staff  Community development links and local video production resources  Existing academic link to lead and support research project  Research factors/research teams  Integration Network team  Healthy Living Network team  Community Development Trust team  Research focus and respondents  Different ethnic groups, different ages, men and women (28)  Young mums and single men (6–7)  Community members, men/women, different ages (20)  Community Researchers  Team of volunteers (12) from existing projects from different ethnic groups  Small group (5–6) of ‘participant researchers’ from the young mums’ and men’s groups  Small group (4–5) of Board members  CRs involvement in research design, analysis and write up  Team fully involved in research process. Training enabled them to put learning about research design, analysis and reporting directly into practice in their research project  For this team, research design, analysis and write up was an emergent process with CRs involved in small groups that came together for a shared analysis session  Team assisted in the design, analysis and write up through regular meetings with guidance from their academic researcher  Methodology  Initial survey pilot questionnaire for structured interviews followed by revised questions and targeting of groups  Peer group interviews and use of video to record their focus group discussions about their experiences of food insecurity  Interviews and small focus groups  Support – CFHS staff and research specialist  ‘Hands-on’ – followed a programme of training to develop research skills and expertise, and support from CFHS  ‘Medium touch’ – dipped into the training resources to guide research process and liaised with CFHS about progress  ‘Light touch’ – linked to CFHS at the start of project and as the final report was written  Support – other  Existing skills of Integration Network staff  Community development links and local video production resources  Existing academic link to lead and support research project  Table 1 Different responses by each of the research teams to the research process Research factors/research teams  Integration Network team  Healthy Living Network team  Community Development Trust team  Research focus and respondents  Different ethnic groups, different ages, men and women (28)  Young mums and single men (6–7)  Community members, men/women, different ages (20)  Community Researchers  Team of volunteers (12) from existing projects from different ethnic groups  Small group (5–6) of ‘participant researchers’ from the young mums’ and men’s groups  Small group (4–5) of Board members  CRs involvement in research design, analysis and write up  Team fully involved in research process. Training enabled them to put learning about research design, analysis and reporting directly into practice in their research project  For this team, research design, analysis and write up was an emergent process with CRs involved in small groups that came together for a shared analysis session  Team assisted in the design, analysis and write up through regular meetings with guidance from their academic researcher  Methodology  Initial survey pilot questionnaire for structured interviews followed by revised questions and targeting of groups  Peer group interviews and use of video to record their focus group discussions about their experiences of food insecurity  Interviews and small focus groups  Support – CFHS staff and research specialist  ‘Hands-on’ – followed a programme of training to develop research skills and expertise, and support from CFHS  ‘Medium touch’ – dipped into the training resources to guide research process and liaised with CFHS about progress  ‘Light touch’ – linked to CFHS at the start of project and as the final report was written  Support – other  Existing skills of Integration Network staff  Community development links and local video production resources  Existing academic link to lead and support research project  Research factors/research teams  Integration Network team  Healthy Living Network team  Community Development Trust team  Research focus and respondents  Different ethnic groups, different ages, men and women (28)  Young mums and single men (6–7)  Community members, men/women, different ages (20)  Community Researchers  Team of volunteers (12) from existing projects from different ethnic groups  Small group (5–6) of ‘participant researchers’ from the young mums’ and men’s groups  Small group (4–5) of Board members  CRs involvement in research design, analysis and write up  Team fully involved in research process. Training enabled them to put learning about research design, analysis and reporting directly into practice in their research project  For this team, research design, analysis and write up was an emergent process with CRs involved in small groups that came together for a shared analysis session  Team assisted in the design, analysis and write up through regular meetings with guidance from their academic researcher  Methodology  Initial survey pilot questionnaire for structured interviews followed by revised questions and targeting of groups  Peer group interviews and use of video to record their focus group discussions about their experiences of food insecurity  Interviews and small focus groups  Support – CFHS staff and research specialist  ‘Hands-on’ – followed a programme of training to develop research skills and expertise, and support from CFHS  ‘Medium touch’ – dipped into the training resources to guide research process and liaised with CFHS about progress  ‘Light touch’ – linked to CFHS at the start of project and as the final report was written  Support – other  Existing skills of Integration Network staff  Community development links and local video production resources  Existing academic link to lead and support research project  Each team’s use of support and guidance had an influence on the partnerships that developed from a more ‘hands on’ relationship with the Integration Network to what could be described as a ‘light touch’ relationship with the Community Development Trust, and to a lesser extent, the Healthy Living Network. The level of communication and feedback from the ‘light touch’ teams made it more difficult to track the progress of the research and to respond to issues that emerged such as staff changes or re-focusing the research plan. Not surprisingly, the level of communication and progress tracking was more effective with the Integration Network (the more ‘hands on’ team) and led to a more iterative research process where the research team learned and adapted as they went. As the team that drew most on the support available to guide their research journey, there was more evidence that they developed the research skills and confidence associated with community-led research. The counter to this was that this more ‘hands-on’ team made higher demands on the CFHS staff and research specialist’s time. This might reflect less research expertise of this team whereas the other teams had one or two members with previous research experience and access to other sources of support. Feedback from the Integration Network team suggested a high level of benefits in terms of team building, skills development and increased confidence in applying skills. What helped my learning was – ‘learning more about food security; discussion in groups; listening to other people’s ideas and views; enjoyed the way we worked together as a team – we gelled right from the start’. (CR comments, Integration Network team) ‘Everybody in the community is suffering from this food insecurity so now we are getting the knowledge here and we are getting the courage to ask people what are their issues relating to food security, what are their special concerns and what are their needs.’ (CR comment, Integration Network team) These comments fit with the findings from Titterton and Smart (2008) who highlighted the empowering aspects as a result of skills development. For this team, there appeared to be a level of consciousness about food insecurity and the need to find out about the issues for the people in their communities. Their comments also suggest that they understood their role and felt equipped to carry out local research. An unintended outcome from the project support element was the generation of learning materials and resources for sharing more widely. During the practical research stage each of the teams conducted their research to suit their needs and interests. The Integration Network piloted an early survey which provided interview practice and built confidence in the CR role. They also learned from the pilot, revised their questions and planned to target a more relevant audience. The Healthy Living Network had initial problems in arranging a suitable time for everyone to meet which led to working in two sub-groups. The two groups came together for communal meals to analyse and review their findings. They used a peer approach where ‘participant researchers’ asked their questions of their peers and also contributed as participants drawing on their own experiences of food insecurity. This team recorded their peer group discussions and used video to record their experiences of the food issues they faced and the strategies they used. The Community Development Trust took a different approach to food insecurity. In their research they focused on discussing healthy eating rather than food security. This team used interviews to learn about experiences and strategies for healthy living and related their findings to life style, life changes and gender differences. This approach to food insecurity might reflect the role of the Community Development Trust in promoting healthy living or might be symptomatic of a lack of shared understanding of the project. In the following comment, one of the CRs suggests that they did not fully understand what was involved at the start, but through the research process they were more interested in food insecurity issues. ‘(I) didn’t really know what to expect – I feel that I have more information and I am keen to find out more about this middle ground (between food banks/crisis and healthy eating) I feel energized and looking forward to making a difference.’ (CR comment, Community Development Trust team) It may be that CRs understanding of and approaches to ‘food insecurity’ across the three teams depended on how well CRs personally identified with the issues and experiences of food insecurity. The CRs from the Integration Network and the participant researchers from the Healthy Living Network teams identified with the target respondents and had personal experiences of food insecurity. This may have enabled them to be more aware and confident to explore the topic with others, whereas the CRs from the Community Development Trust were perhaps more removed from current experiences of food insecurity. The challenges at this stage for us were mainly related to the tracking and facilitation of these different research pathways. What seemed to be happening was that three different research projects were emerging and we were uncertain how this would affect the overall findings of the research. Would there be common themes? Could these different research projects come together? How valid would the overall research findings be? Another challenge was that different timelines for each of the teams were emerging which limited the scope for sharing between the three teams and left uncertainty around how or when projects would be completed. In the end – outcomes and benefits All of the teams did complete their research and reported on their findings. The Healthy Living Network team also included a video of their research. The reports provided valuable context and specific findings about food insecurity in the three communities, even though the research was small scale. A sharing and dissemination event was held where CFHS presented the overall findings and learning from the project. As well as the community organizations and CRs meeting each other, there was an opportunity for the teams to make connections with external stakeholders including funders, policy makers and academics. To address the challenge of sustainability, the commissioner also set aside a small amount of funding for which the community organizations could submit proposals to disseminate their findings locally and/or develop work to act on these, once reports had been finalized. Two community partners accessed the funding available from the commissioner to take their work forward, one of whom also used their report to support a successful application for Scottish Government funding to develop another bespoke project to address food insecurity. The third community organization has been focused on major facilities development but plans to return to the issue of food insecurity. Overall, the topical nature and political interest in the researched issue have further supported ‘sustainability’ as new funding opportunities emerged as we write this article. One of our challenges related to the small sample sizes and how to bring together the qualitative findings from each of the communities. These small-scale research projects provided an insight on the experiences of living with food insecurity in three distinct communities and helped to ‘colour-in’ some of the gaps in current research about food insecurity namely the lived experiences from community members. Time and ethical challenges meant that none of the groups included children or young people. There were also differences in the type of research data that was collected. For example, the Integration Network team collected hand notes, the Healthy Living Network collected interview recordings and video and the Community Development Trust used transcribed interviews. Each of these forms of data raised challenges in data analysis from hand notes being influenced by what the note taker records or more importantly what is missed out, to knowing how to interpret video evidence, to transcripts producing an overwhelming quantity of data. These challenges increase the demands for analysis skills and the time needed to go through the analysis process. Time, at what is arguably the more difficult end of the research process, is often limited and liable to changes such as CRs dropping out or staff changes. Reflections on the benefits and challenges of the research for the Healthy Living Network team highlighted how it had been a ‘good’ challenge: ‘the whole idea of community researching was good to do as we don’t normally work in this way – seeing the community members as collaborators and co-researchers’ (project coordinator). Although the team use a community development approach and were aware of the community-led research model, they had not used it before. The ‘Living with food insecurity’ research seemed to come at a good time for them in that they had a group of people who were concerned about food insecurity and really liked the idea of being involved as co-researchers. They highlighted that for future projects more setting up time and initial guidance and support on ‘how to do it’ was needed, such as working on preparation with co-ordinating teams before going operational. Although support and guidance were available to this group, their response suggests that they may not have been aware of this. This may be due to the fact that other individuals such as the videographer joined the co-ordinating team without having had any involvement in the original discussions. Their response also suggests that the lead-in time for a community-led research project may be considerably longer than anticipated, and take disproportionately longer than the research itself. Another challenge, which for many community-led research projects becomes central to the successful completion of projects, is the practical issue of time (Flicker et al., 2008). Sufficient time for planning and negotiating partnership at the start, flexible time during research to adapt to the needs of the community and time beyond the research for acting on the findings. In this project, ‘time’ related to how the different needs and interests of each of the research team partners were accommodated, and thus the need to work with different timelines, especially where the individual needs of the CRs such as the young mums, the single men and the CRs from the migrant communities as they were exposed to life events and demands that needed to take priority over their participation in the research project. Despite these challenges, each of the research teams gained valuable insights into issues of food insecurity for some of the people living in their community. For CFHS, the research provided three snapshots of ‘Living with food insecurity’ in three distinct Scottish communities. There is also evidence to expand understanding of the lived experience which goes some way towards complementing existing research. There is potential for further research about the experiences of children and young people, and for creating snapshots of experience from other communities. It would be helpful if small-scale studies into specific communities were brought together to provide a broader picture of experiences of living with food insecurity. The challenges that we encountered were not necessarily unique to this project, but they raised different issues for each of the communities. It was also clear that the challenges of partnership building, ensuring safeguards and sustainability were not separate but overlapping. For example, building the research partnership not only involves clarifying and agreeing research roles and processes but also implications for how trust is established and community representatives are supported and what follows when the research is completed. What also emerged was different models of partnership. The ‘hands on’ model, where the potential for better communication can lead to clarity and understanding of roles, and increased guidance and support can lead to skills development and increased community confidence. However, this model does make higher demands on all the partners and there is the potential for some partners to have more influence over the research process than others. In the ‘light touch’ model there may be more scope to explore different research pathways such as the peer approach used by the Healthy Living Initiative group. But there is also potential for roles and expectations of what the community-led research process involves to be unclear. We are not arguing for a ‘right’ way, but suggest that projects planning community-led research should be aware of these choices and decisions. Conclusion At the outset of this project we expected there would be a need for flexibility to adapt to the needs of each of the teams. Each of the teams developed their own research journey. Arguably, this is what community-led research is all about – community groups carving their own pathway. It is clear that using a community-led research approach requires partnership and commitment from everyone involved. It is time and resource hungry. Initially, as shown in the ‘Living with food insecurity’ project, community-led research is most likely to be small scale as community researchers and organizations develop their skills and confidence. However, from this first iteration there is potential for further research; for example, the Integration Network team’s interest to do larger scale work. The research ‘team’ that is created provides a rich mix of community knowledge, research expertise, skills and influence. The community researchers in this project brought their knowledge, connections and lived experiences to the research. It was their participation that enabled us to reach some of our target audience. They also gained skills and enthusiasm for getting more involved as co-researchers for their organization, by joining other groups and by encouraging others from their community to get involved. Community-led research as a methodology has the potential to get to the places where other research methods may not. For us, the learning we take forward is that community-led research needs to embrace this divergence and facilitate research partnerships that are flexible and open and that find ways to ‘live’ out the principles of community-led research. For the other partners involved in community-led research we offer the following insights: For Community Researchers or participant researchers – Have a go, the role does not require previous skills or knowledge but a willingness to learn through training, practice and being part of a team. There are also benefits. CRs gain skills and confidence and become more connected to the experiences of people living in their community. Just be aware of what’s involved and how much time it will take. For community organizations – Have a clear understanding of what community-led research involves and your role as a key co-ordinating partner or gatekeeper in the research process. Ensure opportunities for communication and process review to resolve issues or challenges as they emerge. Take advantage of training and support and be aware that community-led research takes time. For community-led research commissioners or funders – Plan for divergence, flexibility and the real-life timelines for CRs, communities and community organizations, especially when there are multiple research teams. Be aware that community-led research takes time and that different teams are likely to follow different timelines. Where research teams are dispersed geographically these challenges are increased. There is also scope to facilitate connections between research teams and opportunities for shared learning. For policy makers – In this research, the research teams may generate findings which have cross policy area implications. The language used may be less academic, but it might well reveal insights and perspectives often not revealed by research from external investigators. And, finally, the voice of those with lived experience brings a reality to policy discourse that is not illuminated by statistics. In this article we have focused on the community-led research approach that emerged from the ‘Living with food insecurity’ research project. A complete view of the research can be found on the Community Food and Health Scotland website (2016). This includes the research reports from each of the communities involved, research summaries and the support resources that were developed. Acknowledgements We would like to thank the co-operation and commitment of the Community Researchers and the organizations involved in the ‘Living with food insecurity’ research project. The ‘Living with food insecurity’ research was funded by NHS Health Scotland. Footnotes 1 CFHS, was established (originally known as the Scottish Community Diet Project) to ensure that everyone in Scotland has the opportunity, ability and confidence to access a healthy and acceptable diet. 2 Research ‘participant’ is a better term to use within community-led research as it acknowledges an active involvement but to distinguish Community Researchers from research participants in this article we will use the term ‘respondent’. References Community Food and Health Scotland ( 2016) Living with food insecurity – reports, summaries and resources used for supporting the community-led research approach, accessed at: http://www.communityfoodandhealth.org.uk/2016/communityled-research-food-security-insecurity/ (2 February 2016). Douglas, F., Ejebu, O.-Z., Garcia, A., et al.  . ( 2015) The nature and extent of food poverty/insecurity in Scotland, NHS Health Scotland, accessed at: http://www.healthscotland.com/documents/25717.aspx, (1 November 2016). Dowler, E. ( 2003) Food and poverty in Britain: rights and responsibilities, in Dowler E. and Jones Finer C., eds, Welfare of Food: Rights and Responsibilities in a Changing World , Wiley-Blackwell, Oxford, pp. 140– 159. Dowler, E. and Lambie-Mumford, H. ( 2015) How can households eat in austerity? Challenges for social policy in the UK, Social Policy and Society , 14 ( 3), 417– 428. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Flicker, S., Savan, B., McGrath, M., et al.   ( 2008) ‘If you could change one thing …’ What community-based researchers wish they could have done differently, Community Development Journal , 43 ( 2), 239– 253. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Freire, P. ( 1982) Creating alternative research methods: learning to do it by doing it, in Hall B., Gillette A. and Tandon R., eds, Creating Knowledge: A Monopoly – Participatory Research in Development , Society for Participatory Research in Asia, New Delhi, pp. 29– 37. Greenaway, L. and Roberts, B. ( 2014) The policy context: user involvement – a case study in health and community settings, in Exploring the Dynamics of Personal, Professional and Interprofessional Ethics , Policy Press, Bristol, pp. 53– 68. Heron, J. ( 1981) Experiential research methodology, in Reason P. and Rowan J., eds, Human Inquiry – A Source Book of New Paradigm Research , John Wiley and Sons, Chichester, pp. 153– 166. Macaulay, A., Commanda, L., Freeman, W., et al.   ( 1999) Participatory research maximizes community and lay involvement, British Medical Journal , 319, 774– 778. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS PubMed  NHS Health Scotland ( 2015) Position statement on food poverty, accessed at: http://www.healthscotland.scot/media/1157/food-poverty-statement-11-15.pdf (22 December 2016). Scottish Community Development Centre ( 2016), Action research by, in and with communities – a practical guide to community-led action research, accessed at: http://www.scdc.org.uk/what/community-led-action-research/ARC/ (1 December 2016). The Scottish Government ( 2014) Recipe for success: Scotland’s National Food and Drink Policy – Becoming a Good Food Nation, accessed at: http://www.gov.scot/resource/0045/00453219.pdf (25 November 2016). The Scottish Government ( 2016) Scottish government response to the report of the short-life working group on food poverty, accessed at: https://beta.gov.scot/publications/food-poverty-response-to-working-group/Scottish%20Government%20response%20to%20Food%20Poverty%20Short-Life%20Working%20Group%20Nov%202016.pdf?inline=true (22 December 2016). Titterton, M. and Smart, H. ( 2008) Can participatory research be a route to empowerment? A case study of a disadvantaged Scottish community, Community Development Journal , 43, 52– 64. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Van Loon, A. and Mann, S. ( 2006) Development of community partnerships, in Koch T. and Kralik D., eds, Participatory action research in health care , Blackwell Publishing, Oxford, pp. 121– 136. Wallerstein, B. and Duran, B. ( 2006) Using community-based participatory research to address health disparities, Health Promotion Practice , 7 ( 3), 312– 323. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS PubMed  Author notes Lesley Greenaway is an independent researcher, facilitator and trainer who focusses on developing customized evaluation projects, and building organizational capacity in evaluation and research. Her experience comes from twenty-five years working in the voluntary and community sectors. She is an Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Dundee where she completed her doctoral studies through the School of Education and Social Work, with a focus on Evaluation that Empowers. Jacqui McDowell has a development role, promoting knowledge sharing, building evidence and contributing to policy and practice development in tackling health inequalities and food insecurity. This includes supporting the development of self-evaluation capacity and commissioning research. A non-health professional working in the NHS, she has a background in the voluntary and community sector, with a particular emphasis on social justice, quality improvement and evaluation. © Oxford University Press and Community Development Journal. 2017 All rights reserved. For permissions, please email: journals.permissions@oup.com

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Community Development JournalOxford University Press

Published: Oct 25, 2017

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