Three innovative approaches that make social research more accessible and engaging

Georgina Culliford reflects on some new ways of getting more people involved with social research at every stage

How do you make research accessible? And by that, I mean really accessible – to the commissioning organisation, to service users, to all stakeholders?

Any professional piece of research will conclude with a detailed report, comprehensively setting out the work undertaken and the insights gained. But not everyone finds it easy to digest a dense and complex written publication. And those in busy, stressful jobs may struggle to set aside the time to read such a report.

So are there supplementary ways we can reach target audiences – perhaps using more engaging methods?

Happily, the answer is a resounding yes – which was confirmed to me at this year’s annual conference of the Social Research Association. For me, the theme of the virtual conference was creativity, with social researchers invited to display their most creative responses to a project in a research compendium.

We submitted an animation we had created to showcase some of the key insights we delivered for NHS Leeds, which has had an excellent response.

Elsewhere people had dreamed up some amazingly imaginative ways to present research, which I go into more detail about below. It seems the sector is buzzing with ideas of how to interact with organisations, audiences and stakeholders in fresh and engaging ways.

For some, these approaches may seem unconventional, and perhaps even a little daunting. But done well, they have the potential to put across key findings to a wide audience in a much more accessible way.

Here are three examples that really caught my eye.

1. Creative presentations

A number of truly creative ways to present data and insights were showcased at the conference. One that particularly intrigued me was a comic strip story, which chronicled how much difference a disabled people’s organisation made to its users.

Written by Dr Helen Kara and drawn by Julian Gray, it was a compelling way to present a case study of one person’s journey through various services. Just as importantly, for people working in the hard-pressed public sector, it is a relatively quick and actively enjoyable way to consume some very relevant insights.

It was based on findings from the Strengthening Voices, Realising Rights disability initiative set up by Trust for London – you can read more about that here.

2. Deliberative research

At Qa, we have undertaken deliberative research – which aims to involve the public in decision-making in a meaningful way – in the form of half-day qualitative consultations. But the project showcased here took this approach to a new level.

Sarah Castel from Involve presented about their work on the ‘Climate Assembly UK’, the first UK-wide citizens’ assembly on climate change. Commissioned by six Select Committees of the House of Commons, more than a hundred assembly members met over six weekends – a remarkable commitment.

Such long-form research empowered people to take on a huge and seemingly insurmountable subject like climate change, to debate it properly and to challenge each other’s views. Gradually they reached a point where the assembly was shaping solutions rather than just identifying the problems.

Moreover, because it allows people to draw on their lived experience and learn from others’ lived experience, the eventual answers will hopefully be both relevant and robust.

3. Peer research

At the conference we heard from Shelter about the value of peer research, from the peer researchers themselves.

The charity trained people with lived experience of homelessness to undertake research to design new services for homeless women. The success of this project shows how effective peer research can be, particularly around such a challenging and sensitive subject.

Having someone with lived experience changes the dynamic of an interview. It places the interviewees at the heart of the story, drawing out new insights. And there are benefits for the peer researcher too, in terms of gaining self-confidence and career skills.

These are just a handful of examples of the innovation taking place in the research sector right now. Challenging times have called for fresh thinking, and this can only benefit organisations and stakeholders as we go into an uncertain future.

Georgina Culliford is Senior Research Executive at Qa Research. You can contact her on or 01904 632 039


Photograph: Julian Gray art (artist) published in Helen Kara’s ‘Here to help you’ comic book