Written by Bwalya Mulenga, Rick Burgess, Hanna Kienzler, Bethan Mair Edwards, Vanessa May, Sonia Thompson and Verity Buckley

We are a group of researchers made up of service users, survivors, academics, project coordinators and artists in the ESRC Centre for Society and Mental Health and the Bethlem Gallery. We want to democratise research and reshape the nature of how it is done.

To work toward this, we are jointly developing an online platform – a virtual research toolkit – so anyone who wants it has access to high-quality, engaging sources discussing research design, ethics, qualitative and quantitative methods, analysis, knowledge exchange and more. We hope that the Online Research Methods Toolkit will help empower people to produce their own research in the field of society and mental health by pursuing questions and problems that are important to them and their community.

The development of our Online Research Methods Toolkit is rooted in key Design Justice principles which put “people who are normally marginalized by design” at the centre of capacity strengthening and research, and use a collaborative and creative approach to “address the deepest challenges our communities face” (for more information see Design Justice Network). One of these challenges is connected to a lack of power over shaping research agendas, data generation, and meaningful policy influence. We are trying to help change this by introducing community members to the world of research and its methods.

A Community Research Needs Assessment

Eager to ensure that the resources supplied by the Toolkit are actually wanted and needed, we carried out a research needs assessment with selected mental health organisations across the UK. 54 respondents participated, giving us insight into their work, knowledge and skills related to data collection and analysis, experience with research methods training, and what they would want a research methods toolkit to look like. Here is a brief summary of our findings:

Survey participants

Participants were diverse in terms of their age, disability status, and location; however, they were predominantly White men and women (including cis and trans-gendered men and women) with only 14 from Black and minority ethnic groups. We are acutely aware that we are missing the insight of individuals who identify as other genders and ethnicities considering that our aim is to create a platform that is inclusive of all who might find such a research toolkit useful for their work in mental health. Going forward, we will ensure greater diversity in focus groups and other workshops designed to help us with the development of the toolkit.

Research Methods Use and Training

From our survey findings, it became clear that virtually all the participants were involved in research activities such as data management, interviews and surveys, and report writing and publications.

Even though the participants identified one or more research activities they regularly undertake as part of their work, 43% did not consider themselves comfortable actually conducting research.

A potential explanation for this discomfort may be that the research methods training people had received did not always prepare them for working with the types of data they were expected to collect in their respective roles. For example, despite 19 participants stating that they typically work with visual/ audio data, very few of them had received training in audio/visual data collection (5) or analysis (3).

Many survey respondents had received training related to qualitative data collection, how to develop a research project from start to finish, how to develop a research objective and research questions, quantitative data collection, and research ethics. Interestingly, these were also the areas in which participants felt that they needed the most additional training in. Unfortunately, they felt that accessing any type of training was challenging, reporting common barriers such as a lack of access to funding to cover training expenses, not enough time and not being able to find suitable training.

“I am not sure how I would find the right training – and affordable training to update my knowledge.” – Survey participant

“Time/resource is not created in small organisations for this, and academic research is seen as too distant and not relevant, overly thorough and more interested in its own needs, not practically applicable to developing or improving services.” – Survey participant

How to Build an Inclusive Online Research Methods Toolkit

We enquired whether participants would consider our proposed Online Research Methods Toolkit useful for their own work. Most agreed (62.96%), some were not sure (29.63%) and only a few didn’t think so (7.41%).

When asked what type of training would be most useful to access, participants appeared to prefer “people-centric resources” such as training courses, online courses, and webinars as well as editable and downloadable templates. Beyond the resources themselves, access to people (both peers and experts) was also important to the participants. When asked to rank a list of pre-selected resources to be featured on the research methods toolkit, participants deemed online and training courses most useful, with webinars, videos, infographics and diagrams a close second followed by blogs, open access journals, books, and reports. Podcasts were considered to be the least useful source.

In our survey, participants were also invited to tell us about how to build our toolkit inclusively. Their answers highlighted the importance of accessibility, emphasising ways to make the site more user-friendly through both tools and language such as:

  • Inclusion of alt-text, transcriptions, and easy-read options for resources
  • Utilisation of colour-blind and dyslexia friendly design
  • Use of simple language and varied resources to cater to different levels of expertise
  • Provision of free, downloadable, and hard copy resources
  • Translation tools

Respondents recommended we ensure that the toolkit provides an inclusive and accessible platform for organisations to not only learn about research methods and tools but also to connect with others working in the field of society and mental health. Suggestions were made for the Online Research Methods Toolkit to contain features that allow its users to learn about ongoing projects and exchange knowledge, insights, and expertise.

Next steps

As we continue to design our Online Research Methods Toolkit, we will be guided by the insights generously shared by survey participants. We will grow our user community and ask for their advice and expertise to strengthen the toolkit. Thereby, we hope that our toolkit will become a living platform and an accessible resource bringing together community organisers, service users, survivors, mental health professionals and researchers in such a way that enables them to become confident in conducting their own research that can have a meaningful impact on society and mental health.

If you would like to pass on your research knowledge to support the research aspirations of others, here are a couple of ways you can help:

  • Send over a brief summary of your favourite research methods to Hanna Kienzler via CSMH-Methods@kcl.ac.uk. You can choose ANY method of data collection, analysis, or dissemination. You should write the summary in simple terms using basic language to help someone who may be learning about this method for the first time. The summary that you submit should be around 200-300 words long; it will be edited by our team to fit the tone, style, and format of the Online Research Methods Toolkit. If you are happy with the revisions, your summary will be featured on the website. If you would like to be acknowledged, you can be credited for your contributions and users of the website will be directed to your professional profile, blog, or website. Please do include this information when you send your content.
  • Send over your go-to resources (online courses, videos, blog articles, podcasts etc.) that either describe the method, provide a tutorial, or show the method in action. These resources should be free (not behind a paywall).
Image courtesy of Tony James Allen