Vunerable_tips_wHere at Community Research, we have lots of experience of helping our clients work with vulnerable audiences, see our Nottingham City Clinical Commissioning Group case study. We thought we’d share some of our tips for a successful project that enables you to include the voices of those that aren’t easily reached:

  1. Don’t be too narrow: As outlined in our article on defining vulnerability – don’t decide too restrictively who is vulnerable and who isn’t – most of us will be vulnerable at some point in our lives.

2. Engage with gatekeepers: There are a plethora of third sector organisations that may help with identifying and speaking to specific vulnerable groups. To locate the charities and community groups working with vulnerable people in your area try contacting your local infrastructure organisation through

3. Don’t rely only on gatekeepers: Community leaders can be both an asset and a barrier to real engagement. Be aware that seeking other routes to engaging with vulnerable people may give you a broader and more representative view – particularly where you suspect that a gatekeeper has a specific agenda.

4. Consider who will be conducting the research: Is there a need to ensure that that the researcher is the same gender, age or speaks the same language? If an interpreter is required, make sure they are fully briefed in advance of the session.

5. Choose a venue that can physically accommodate the range of needs that your participants may have: think parking; public transport; toilets; steps; appropriate lighting, hearing loops etc.

6.Better still, conduct research in a familiar setting: For example, in participants’ homes, a day centre, a community centre or local pub.

7. Gain informed consent in advance: Make sure all participants know in advance what the session involves and what the information they share will be used for – make it clear they can opt out of the process at any time. Don’t ask someone to consent on their behalf.

8. Invite family or carers: Individuals with physical, mental or sensory impairments may wish to have the option to bring someone with them. However, be clear about whether this person is, or is not, able to express their own views during the course of discussions.

9. Think about the format of the session: More often than not it will be appropriate to convene interviews or small groups to allow participants the time and space to share their views. Work out what is a realistic length of time to engage with your audience, for example, individuals with health issues may become uncomfortable or even unwell if the session is too long.

10. Use visual conversation aids: Information can be made accessible to all by the use of story boards, pictures or visual media. Not only do visuals help get across necessary information they also act as a focal point so that more reticent individuals do not have to engage as directly with the researcher.

11. Be creative: Participants can often find it easier to express themselves through creative tasks such as collage creation, sentence completion exercises, word associations and role plays. Just make sure exercises are clearly explained or demonstrated and that they are appropriate for each audience.

We hope these tips are useful. Is there anything you would add?

Picture: er madx on Flickr under creative commons.

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