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Participatory Research – Round Table Discussion

Back in October 2023, we put out a survey about conducting participatory research in Scotland. We wanted to find out not only who is doing participatory research, but also who isn’t but would like to!

We got great feedback and enthusiasm from respondents – so we decided to organise a small in-person round-table event – which would shape an online follow-up event for a wider audience.

The Third Sector Research Forum, in a joint venture with The Binks Hub, hosted the event at the brand-new Edinburgh Future’s Institute site.

In this blog, Marianne, Communications Officer at ESS, shares her thoughts from the round-table discussion.

Monday 25th of March – Edinburgh Future’s Institute.

When I arrived at the EFI (occupying the iconic Old Royal Infirmary) on a rainy Monday morning, I didn’t know much about participatory research, nor what to expect from this discussion.

The visual note taker, Jenny, was already set up and getting the lay of the room, while participants arrived, and I got ready with my notebook and camera!

The day began with a presentation from Poverty Alliance’s Senior Research Officer Laura and Peer-Researcher Shazia.

Shazia was a participant in a focus-group of asylum seekers, the topic the group discussed was higher education. From this peer-research project it was found that asylum seekers are often highly educated but face the problem of lack of proof. She explained that other barriers include language, limited knowledge of the UK education system, being limited to undertaking only part-time education, and scholarships open to asylum seekers being extremely scare.

Linking to the upcoming discussion topics, Shazia explained that to her, participatory research is a framework to talk to the community that are affected by an issue. And that best practice in participatory research involves; research questions that are developed, engaging the community, maintaining confidentiality, providing support, and ensuring everyone feels safe.


Next up was a presentation from YouthLink Scotland’s Senior Policy & Research Officer; Amy, and peer-researcher Connor. They explained that the kind of participatory research they do is youth-led research. This means that they work in partnership with young people, researching topics that young people care about and want to get involved with.


Participants are chosen based on a range of criteria, to try and ensure there is variety, and a representation of different walks of life within the group. Connor explained that there is no pressure on the young people to join in, but that the researchers provide chances to get involved by hosting team building trips and using mechanisms like ‘brave spaces’ to give the kids the opportunity to talk about awkward issues.

Participatory research was also referred to as a: ‘community led approach’, ‘peer-research’, and ‘community research’.

Q: For a long research project, how do you keep participants interested?

 ‘I think participants see the value of what they’re getting out of the process, but if participants aren’t engaging they’ll usually drop off.’

‘Providing incentives works to keep participants engaged (e.g. team building days, snacks).’

Being accommodating makes a difference. If you need continued involvement from participants, things like childcare costs, and people’s schedules need to be considered.’


Discussions at participation stations.

For the second half of the session, participants were asked to split into groups to discuss a topic around participatory research.

  • What does ‘participatory research’ mean to you?
  • Best practice in participatory research
  • Ethics in participatory research
  • How best to support participation
  • Funding participatory research

Before the session participants had been asked to bring an object or image with them on the day that represents their thoughts on that topic.

With my limited knowledge of participatory research, I had struggled to think of what to bring, so it was very interesting to see the wide range of things that participants had brought with them (…a rubix cube, a watch, an egg!) – as well as hearing the justifications!

Each group created a sticky flipchart to capture the points of discussion for the rest of the group to see.

Final reflections:

At the end of the event, the group reflected on the session; agreeing that it had been a good balanced discussion, and that it was interesting to see similar themes and ideas come up across the different discussion topics.

As for my own final reflection; I learned a lot from the round-table discussion! I now understand why participatory research is so important and I appreciate the significance of research that it is informed by the people behind it! As well as the many considerations that need to be taken when conducting participatory research!