What is peer research?
Peer research is a participatory research method in which people with lived experience of the issues being studied take part in directing and conducting the research.
It aims to empower people to affect positive change by participating in research on their own communities.
Peer researchers (also referred to as ‘community researchers’) use their lived experience and understanding of a social or geographical community to help generate information about their peers for research purposes. They may be involved in assisting with research design, developing research tools, collecting and analysing data, or writing up and disseminating findings.
Peer research can also be referred to as ‘user involvement’ or ‘service user’ research when it is conducted together with the users of a specific service to evaluate that service.
Why do peer research?
There are many advantages to adopting a peer research approach.
- Access to ‘less heard’ voices: Because peer researchers identify with the community being studied, they can often connect with people who might be unwilling to engage with professional researchers. Peer researchers can use their networks and relationships to involve people that may not otherwise have been included in research.
- Empowerment of participants: Peer research is about conducting research ‘with and for’ the people affected. That changes the traditional power imbalance of ‘outsiders’ conducting research.
- The added value of lived experience: Peer researchers have their own lived experiences, and that knowledge and inside understanding of the issues being studied can enhance the research.
- Gathering better data: When those conducting research have experiences in common with the people they are interviewing, it reduces the risk of misunderstanding and increases the likelihood that the the conversations will be relevant to the people involved. In addition, people may respond more honestly and openly to an interviewer who has personal experience of the issue being discussed, or who they already and feel they can speak with more informally. The delivers higher quality, more nuanced data.
- Activating communities: Participatory approaches can create self-critical communities who are invested in their own wellbeing.
- Benefits to peer researchers: Peer research can provide valuable work experience and training that may increase peer researchers’ employability in the future. Many people gain confidence and self-esteem by participating in peer research and finding that they add significant value to the process. It may also promote social inclusion among groups who often experience exclusion and isolation such as those challenged by stigma or marginalisation.