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Giving Voice to Those Seldom Heard

Over a period of nine months, 23 peer researchers from whg, Just Straight Talk (JST), and the African Caribbean Community Initiative (ACCI) held conversations with people from their communities to gain a clearer understanding of the way digital technologies are used to access health services. The discussions were organised around six topics, which arose from the three broad themes identified at the peer researcher training days. The six topics were:

1. Characteristics of the people using the technology (e.g. lifestyles, attitudes to risk, degrees of trust)

2. Characteristics of the community the person you are talking to belongs (e.g. how a particular age group uses technology)

3. Characteristics/attributes of the technology (e.g. costs, ease of use or reliability of technology)

4. Characteristics of the NHS (i.e. how people feel about the NHS influences their attitudes on digital engagement with NHS)

5. What is needed to make these technologies work well for your community?

6. Others

I participated in some of these interviews as a silent observer, to see how the data collection process differed when peer researchers (rather than professional researchers) led the conversation.

In many ways, the interview process led by peer researchers was similar to interviews led by professional researchers. The first interviews were often a bit stilted and quick, with both interviewer and interviewee more conscious of the interview process than the content of the questions and answers. As the interviewer became more confident, their interviews became more fluent, the formulation of the questions clearer and more detailed, and their ability to identify new and interesting information and insights sharper. What differed was their in-depth understanding of context and common history, which influenced the interpretation of the conversation. Their access and knowledge of their communities, based on relationships of trust and support, allowed our project to have conversations with people whose experiences are not normally included in research projects. Despite many challenges and shortcomings, my observations have led me to conclude that our project was successful in giving a voice to those seldom heard.

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