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Community research, the People Street way...

Updated: Aug 23, 2023

At People Street, we believe great tech is created when designers hear directly from the communities most at risk of being excluded by the technology in creation because all too often we test our assumptions with the easy to reach.

There are many organisations across the UK working to tackle digital exclusion. These organisations are doing great work, especially the grassroots organisations training champions, providing data/devices, running training or offering practical support. Our approach to tackling digital exclusion compliments these approaches. At People Street, we are focused on removing barriers related to poor tech design. We believe great tech has the potential to tackle inequalities.

In this post we are going to share our inclusive community research process citing a recent collaboration with a Home Office team.

Working collaboratively with the Digital Inclusion Lead at the Home Office, People Street were commissioned in June 2023 to run a small discovery with communities experiencing digital exclusion in an effort to better understand how barriers interact and surface in the real world.

Breaking down the process

At the start of a community research exercise, we host a briefing session with Community Researchers who are themselves representative of the communities we seek to reach. They speak community languages, are respected leaders in their local areas, have lived and living experiences that they openly share to build trust. They are experts by experience and this expertise is utilised to build a picture of the participants we may want to engage and the places we may want to reach into to recruit participation. The scoping is collaborative, iterative and community led.

The Scoping exercise can last between 2-3 weeks depending on the complexity of the research. For this discovery, we ran a 2-week scoping sprint identifying all the potential partnerships, venues, public spaces and contacts which would support reaching digitally excluded participants. This involves physical walk-abouts, telephone calls and meetings.

Once the scoping was agreed, we began several cycles of Outreach, using the feedback to iterate our plan. We visited mosques, churches, markets, libraries, hostels, community organisations, food banks, barbers, and cafes. In these sessions we introduced ourselves, our approach, and the research. We explained that we were working collaboratively with the Digital Inclusion team at the Home Office, but that we were independent.

We spent a lot of time assuring people that we would not collect or share identifiable information. Most importantly, we listened. These early conversations were about listening to the issues people were facing in their lives, listened without it being a formal research conversation. In community development practice, you start with the people, and so, that’s what we did. Start where people are at, listen with respectful curiosity to the issues emerging, giving people time to share what they feel is important to them, what’s worrying them right now. Through these outreach conversations, potential participants are testing out whether they can trust us, whether we are people “to do business with” before they commit to taking part in the research. For this discovery, we spoke to over 100 people over three weeks during the outreach phase lasting 168 hours.

The Recruitment process involves taking people through the detail of the research, including sharing an easy-to-read information sheet and consent form. Due to language barriers and digital exclusion, we used a mixed methods approach (telephone with email or face to face).

The Research took place in community settings that are frequented by the communities we were reaching. We hired the hall ahead of time and shared the timing and location 4 weeks before the session to give people as much notice as possible.

What next?

It's now August 2023 and we are reviewing the findings of the discovery and exploring the next steps. Once we can share the learning, we will post a blog and continue to take you on the journey.

In the meantime...we would like to thank everyone who took part in this discovery, your courage and generosity shines a light forward so that others can benefit. We would also like to thank the Home Office team who have encouraged and supported this work. Who have believed in our approach to achieve inclusive design and surface the voices of communities experiencing exclusion. And finally, our Community Researchers, you are the beacons who make this work possible, your insights, diligence and commitment is why your communities love and respect you, thank you.

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