Last week I went to an event about trust within participatory research. The event was hosted by the University of Durham. More info here:
It was a great workshop, with a really good mix of attendees. The discussions got me thinking about the importance of trust in my own work. Here’s some thoughts from me…
Building trust over time
Several speakers spoke about building trust within a particular group / community over time, and the challenges of building trust during shorter, one-off projects. This made me think about my relationship with PURSUN. PURSUN is a network of people with various long term health conditions or experience of caring. They work on projects broadly related to pressure ulcer prevention and treatment. I’ve worked closely with PURSUN since 2010 and I would like to think I’ve built up a positive relationship with them. The trust we have definitely helps our working relationship. I trust that PURSUN members will be honest and open during our projects and I hope people feel the same about me. However…
Is mistrust ever an advantage?
Someone posed this provocative question at the start of last week’s event. Again this made me consider my relationship with PURSUN. I wonder whether members are less likely to challenge me now, compared to when we first met. Can trust mean that people think less critically about other people’s actions or requests? PURSUN members, feel free to comment. I’d love to know what you think!
Tina Cook proposed that a degree of mistrust is actually healthy, particularly when it comes to big organisations like the NHS or Universities. As a society, we need to challenge organisations and hold them to account. Blind trust is unlikely to make that happen.
Tina Cook also talked about the messy nature of participatory projects. She suggested that we have to be willing to let go of our current beliefs in order to generate new knowledge. She also talked about the importance of challenging and disrupting the norm. When those things happen, projects can often get a little messy! I can identify with this. If you are working in a truly collaborative way, then you have to be open to projects changing as they progress. You also have to be open to working in new ways which may feel uncomfortable and messy, particularly if you are used to quite rigid research protocols.
It was great to hear so many people talk about the use of art within their research. I heard about the use of role-play, theatre, sculpture, murals, film and song. It was lovely to hear people talk openly about the power of art and also the challenges of using arts based approaches.
I think that there is an issue with how some people perceive the relationship between art and research. Many people seem to recognise the benefit of creating arts based outputs at the end of a project; however I believe art can be useful throughout the research process. Art can help us to make sense of and explore data; it can facilitate dialogue; it can bring complex concepts to life in an engaging way; and it can mediate trust. In fact, I would say that an artistic product is never ‘just an output’ as art always has the potential to stimulate conversations and further work.
Images of prototype sculptures made as part of the Child Cosmos Project . The pieces are designed to start conversations about health.
We touched briefly on the importance of self-trust i.e. in order to challenge others you have to have a degree of trust in your own opinion. This is something which I’m starting to explore via my storytelling work. We are exploring arts-based facilitation techniques to help people reflect on and share their health stories. A big part of that work is helping people to recognise the expertise they have gained through their personal experiences.
Different types of expertise
This notion of valuing different types of expertise comes up a lot in my work, particularly in relation to academic vs lived experience. Last week’s discussions also made me consider the expertise which artists bring to health research projects. Many community arts practitioners have a lot of experience in facilitation, working collaboratively, and embedding themselves within a community. I think that some researchers could recognise that more. At times artists could be seen more as partners, rather than service providers who are bought in to create an end product.
You can here what others thought of the event by searching #trustmistrust on twitter.
If you would like to read more about trust, or participatory research more generally, then I’d recommend:
- The UK Participatory Research Network
- The Trust Map Project
- The International Collaboration for Participatory Health Research (ICPHR)
- The Durham Participatory Research Hub