Section 6: Facilitating inclusive interactions

All research encounters should seek to be inclusive, accessible and respectful of a diversity of experiences and opinions. As mentioned in the section on advisory groups meetings, inclusive language is an important consideration: using advocacy-developed language is important for communicating respect, and ensure all acronyms or domain specific vocabulary is explained in clear accessible terms. When there may be a divergence on how specific key concepts are interpreted or used, take the time to ask individuals to explain how they understand the term and try and come up with shared terminology, (or at least shared recognition of the different ways of defining the concept so that discussions can move ahead). If a specific concept becomes problematic, try to co-create a concept summary that recognises the plurality of perspectives, as this may well be important in informing the language used in research material and interactions. Principles of Universal Design should inform the design of the communication processes (including accessible writing/textspoken communication). 

Recognising and asking about different communicative preferences is key.  Co-developing methods that do not prioritise specific communicative modes can be a really helpful way make sure people can contribute their ideas meaningfully in research encounters: this may involve having co-researchers/community members give tours of local areas, using craft  materials, videography, maps, or musical performances to name just a few possibilities.  Diverse methods can also help reframe expertise and power differentials as choosing methods, and research environments where people feel confident and skilful can shift the dynamic of the interaction and allow different kinds of information to be shared and valued  (see for example,  Case Study 1 or Scott-Barrett, Cebula, & Florian, 2022). 

Key Insights

Co-developing expectations and setting the tone

“In order to set a sensitive and accessible tone for the workshop series, participants were encouraged to identify their accessibility needs (e.g., allergies, hearing/visual impairment, shyness, mobility need, etc.) in an intake survey at the first workshop. SN (the workshop facilitator) provided space for natural ground rules to emerge to guide subsequent discussions and help create a safe and comfortable environment for all. For example, participants were told to flag hurtful or oppressive language with a pre-determined hand signal and were explicitly encouraged to “call-out” the facilitator or fellow group members if discussions ventured into potentially triggering or retraumatizing territory.” (Neufeld et al., 2019, pp.3-4)

It is helpful to check with each person prior to meetings as to how they prefer to communicate and consult advocacy pages relevant to the topic of focus to seek guidance on inclusive communication and respectful language. It may be helpful to circulate all documents/materials far in advance to ensure everybody feels confident and prepared to participate.

Researcher Insight:

Researcher 2 had worked extensively with youth researchers, and thought very carefully about making the meetings inclusive and accessible:

‘They attend all our research meetings on an equal footing to researchers. We pay equal attention to their inputs and make sure that any of their concerns are on the agenda; and that's sometimes quite hard as academics to ensure that young people have the same weight in team meetings. The other problem of course is that we use loads of acronyms, that nobody knows what they mean, you have to stop yourself and think....So there's things about language and inclusion and ensuring that people have more time to look at documents than maybe an academic would… we need to give our young people about a week to have everything well in advance and double spaced, and we need to take account of any reading issues and special needs in any of the paperwork....So they have to feel fully involved as equal partners. And I really mean equal. So not just attending certain sessions or being excluded from some of the difficult conversations’. (Researcher 2)

Creating space for individuals to contribute and reflect

Turuba and colleagues (2022) explain the following:

“We also asked youth how they wanted to be engaged to promote a safe and comfortable space for discussion and identified supports needed in place for youth to partake. This involved asking whether they wanted opportunities for small group discussions, written and anonymous feedback, icebreaker activities, and meeting breaks. Further, to ensure youth felt supported and had access to the project team, the phase 1 project lead (author SI) and/or research coordinator (author RT) stayed online after the meetings in case anyone had any concerns to discuss” (p.5).

Researcher Insight:

‘Our engagement has been driven from a ‘bottom-up’ approach. So we would structure sessions, but only insofar as we dedicate time to engaging the participants in a way that they can share... for example, we wouldn't be presenting too much information ourselves about what needs to be done, or how it needs to be done. We will put certain agendas on the table, but it would be part of the conversation to think about how to approach this issue. I think we're very conscious of, if there is any structure in our workshops and engagement activities, it is to give space for people to contribute themselves, and to develop a sense of ownership of resources, materials, strategies, and we can see that they follow up on, and are interested in that.’ (Researcher 4)

Finding ways for individuals to contribute to hybrid collaborations

Co-developing ways for people to participate online or in-person, as well as options to contribute synchronously or asynchronously can be a really useful way to navigate different barriers to participation as they arise.

Researcher Insight:

Researcher 5 discussed the planning process that went into designing an in-person and online international collaborative workshop.

‘Given that this is [*international*] by nature, the timings will be really difficult, and also I think we've all experienced with the pandemic, a bit of fatigue in terms of what we can go through with attending online workshops and conferences. And I think that people are unlikely to want to tune in from for the whole schedule... So we want to try and build a really effective focused online participation schedule whereby we have discrete windows of time that the online participants will be getting involved in, and that will be prioritising their voices at those times, we'll use online Google documents to keep everybody up to track with what the research priorities are, and what changes have been made, for instance, and so they'll be able to follow live through those online documents’. (Researcher 5)

Recognising and recording how and whether consensus can be reached and recording minority views

 Fischer, Schulz, & Chenais (2020) emphasise the importance of recording and analysing minority/divergent views, especially if they challenge or are distinct from the group consensus:

“We would suggest that it might be relevant to think beyond consensus in focus group discussions and to note and analyse minority views as well…it is clear that striving for consensus frequently leads to weaker voices being marginalised in favour of a ‘consensus of the privileged’. In this regard there needs to be awareness of the trade-off between forging consensus and understanding the perspectives of the most marginalised. One strategy to address this is to have separate focus group discussions based not only on gender, but on other forms of social stratification as well, noting nevertheless that the groups constructed cannot be expected to be completely free of power and plurality. Moreover, attention needs to be paid to the role of researchers here and how they perceive their own knowledge in relation to that of others. Facilitators and interpreters need to be carefully selected and there is a requirement for ongoing dialogue with them about the research situation and translation, and about the importance of trying to see the world from the study subjects’ perspective.” (Fischer, Schulz, & Chenais, 2020, pp.6-7) 

Reflecting on and evaluating interactions

Turuba and colleagues (2022) developed a Youth Engagement Evaluation framework to help understand how engaged young people felt at different stages in the process. This included open ended questions as well as Likert scale responses to practical questions about the research encounters and meetings:

  • “Meetings are scheduled at times that are convenient for me
  • Email communication about meetings and activities were clear and easy for me to understand
  • I am able to attend most meetings
  • My role and responsibilities were clearly explained to me when I joined the committee
  • My role within the committee has met my expectations
  • I have learned valuable information/skills during my time as a Y4Y committee member
  • Being part of The Experience Project has been a good use of my time
  • Overall, I am satisfied with my time with the project.”(Turuba et al., 2022, p.11)
  • They also designed questions to understand how the young people felt in the group meetings and included measures of psychological safety:
  • “I feel welcomed and respected     
  • I feel like my voice is being heard  
  • I feel like my thoughts and opinions are being incorporated into the project        
  • I feel comfortable sharing my experiences   
  • I feel comfortable sharing my ideas
  • I feel supported by the project team             
  • I feel comfortable offering suggestions to the research team  
  • I understand what the goals of The Experience Project are/I understood what ‘The Experience Project’ was about
  • I feel like all perspectives are welcomed/There were a broad range of perspectives shared within the group
  • I feel that the group represents diverse range of experiences
  • I think other people felt comfortable sharing their perspectives.” (Turuba et al., 2022, p.11)

The research team dynamically took on board anything they learnt from the survey. This was a very useful process and was taken at three time points in the research so that changes and adaptations could be co-developed accordingly. Another strength of their evaluative approach was the involvement of young people in the evaluation development:

“Two youth peer evaluators (YPEs) were hired from the Y4Y and were provided with evaluation training, including survey design and evaluation theory. The YPEs revised the Y4Y and YRA endpoint surveys independently and met with the evaluation specialist to discuss the proposed changes and make final decisions as a team. This led to slight changes between the mid- and end-point Y4Y survey questions to improve the clarity of the questions and reduce duplication.”(p.10)

Key literature


  • Fischer, K., Schulz, K., & Chenais, E. (2020). “Can we agree on that”? Plurality, power and language in participatory research. Preventive veterinary medicine, 180, 104991. 
  • Harmon‐Darrow, C., Charkoudian, L., Ford, T., Ennis, M., & Bridgeford, E. (2020). Defining inclusive mediation: Theory, practice, and research. Conflict Resolution Quarterly, 37(4), 305-324.
  • Neufeld, S.D., et al. (2019) Research 101: A process for developing local guidelines for ethical research in heavily researched communities. Harm Reduct J 16, 41 
  • Peterson, M. (2022). Objects in focus groups: Materiality and shaping multicultural research encounters. Qualitative Research, 22(1), 24–39.
  • Scott-Barrett, J., Cebula, K. & Florian, L. (2022) The experiences and views of autistic children participating in multimodal view-seeking research, International Journal of Research & Method in Education.
  • Turuba, R., Irving, S., Turnbull, H., Amarasekera, A., Howard, A. M., Brockmann, V., Tallon, C., Mathias, S., Henderson, J., & Barbic, S. (2022). Practical Considerations for Engaging Youth With Lived And/or Living Experience of Substance Use as Youth Advisors and Co-Researchers. Journal of Participatory Research Methods, 3(3, Youth-themed Special Issue).

Creative Commons Licence This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Cite as: Scott-Barrett*, J., Marshall-Brown*, A., Livingstone-Banks, M., Chrisinger, B., Scher, B., Hickman, M. (2023) Participatory Research: Researcher Insights. University of Oxford *(joint first authorship)