_This blog was originally posted on Transforming Society_*
Thrive Teesside works tirelessly to ensure the voice, skills, knowledge and expertise of low income communities is respected, listened to and afforded the opportunity to work alongside others to affect positive change. The current pandemic has highlighted some specific barriers to meaningful participation, but I hasten to say, that none of these issues are new but are merely amplified.
Since the outbreak of the pandemic, the use of online video conferencing software has been revered for its capability of bringing people together. The widespread organising of pub quizzes, family catch-ups and work meetings has led video-conferencing host Zoom to become a household name. But can Zoom be used for social research? As an MA student researching the undergraduate student experience of food insecurity, the current context of pandemic caused me to refocus my data collection from face-to-face interviewing to online methods. Reflecting on my experiences of using Zoom, I highlight the pros, cons and necessary adjustments I’ve made to maintain data quality and ensure ethical standards.
When the aim of your research is to engage with lived experiences, what happens when a global pandemic means you can no longer share the same physical space as your research participants?
The repeated claims that COVID19 has revealed social inequities in the UK is irritating. Like the ‘left behind_’ narrative it gives people permission to think (if not say), “whoops we didn’t see that before”. This is clearly not true! The pandemic and responses to it are exacerbating inequalities, speeding up the passage from poor lives to poor health and, for some, premature mortality. But social inequalities and their impacts – with their intersecting dimensions of class, race, ethnicity, sexuality, disability, age, etc - have always been on public display: in the dramatically contrasting neighbourhoods in cities; the makeshift “beds” for homeless people lining our streets; the Windrush scandal and the Grenfell Tower fire, the burgeoning food banks and now ubiquitous food collection boxes at supermarkets. They are present in schools, the NHS, housing agencies, job centres and other public services. They have never been _invisible just deliberately unseen.
The coronavirus storm and its economic slipstream has caused unprecedented damage at lightning speed to people’s livelihoods, pulling many families under. The social security system has a vital role as an anchor in stormy times and the Government swiftly strengthened it with a £20 per week uplift to Universal Credit’s standard allowance.
I’ve seen this sentiment across social media: we’re not working from home right now, instead we’re at home during a pandemic trying to work. The saying articulates the position people find themselves in, as personal and professional life ebbs into one another. In many ways this mingling of the ‘personal’ and the ‘professional’ is not a new conundrum for qualitative researchers, and in particular for participatory research. Research of this nature is already highly personal for those involved in it. Nevertheless, a global pandemic throws up an entirely new context to navigate these blurred boundaries. I want to use this blog to reflect on The Commission on Social Security, led by Experts by Experience, a participatory research project that has pivoted to working totally remotely.
Jed Meers, Simon Halliday and Joe Tomlinson
Very soon after the reality of the pandemic hit home, research councils and other social science funders began to issue rapid response calls for research on the social and economic impacts of Covid-19. My first response to this was mixture of defensiveness and frustration: “The impact? It’s going to be shit! We know it’s going to be shit! Why do we need more research telling us how shit it’s going to be?!”