Section 7: Setting up accessible research spaces

When choosing a research location, it is important to focus on finding somewhere where people feel, safe, included and respected. The choice of location can affect power differentials, interaction dynamics and the way expertise, knowledge and authority is framed (e.g., research encounters with young people in classrooms, may proceed very differently from research encounters in play/recreational spaces). The space can also affect how engaged people feel in the activities and research process. The following considerations may be helpful when coming to a shared decision on a venue:

  • Build in accessibility considerations to decision-making from the very start. Find venues with space for those with caring/nursing responsibilities and changing-space toilets are also a key consideration – research sites should be chosen with an accessible toilet regardless of whether those expected to attend have stated they may need one, as research participation should be inclusive without the need for people to disclose personal details if they do not wish to.  
  • Ask participants/co-researchers if there are particular environmental stimuli that are comfortable/uncomfortable. For example, if participants experience claustrophobia, it can be helpful to find a venue that leads on to a quiet space or patio, or to make sure there is a quiet open area that people can visit at any point.
  • Think carefully about safe access to and from the venue (ask whether there are specific times of day or spaces that should be avoided, and check whether anyone wishes to engage anonymously and whether that might have implications for research location). 
  • Conduct a site visit in advance and consider if there are potentially problematic elements (e.g., check for environmental stimuli such as bright lights on shiny surfaces, loud drilling from nearby building site). It can be really helpful to have photographs and maps describing details of the locations and enable people to visit in advance or early to help them feel more comfortable. Many cities in the UK use AccessAble which brings together maps, photographs, building access and other useful information.

Key Insights

Preparing information to send in advance

It is helpful to send as much information as possible in advance about the research environment. This can help people feel more comfortable with the new research environment especially if they are new to engaging in research. Some really helpful resources have been developed by Autistica: these are not just relevant for research focusing on autism, but very useful for developing inclusive communications and consent processes for focus groups etc. Through this resource page, they link out to approved example documents from previous studies These include an excellent example of research information sent in advance detailing the research environment of focus groups  (see Ashworth, M. “Information Pack for Focus Group”. Centre for Research in Autism and Education, UCL) as well as  example information sheets and Visual Timetables explaining what will happen in the research encounter. These can also be useful kinds of information sheets to do-develop with your advisory group.

Setting up the space  

Inclusive environments should have plenty of space for people to move around freely – consider the placing and height of tables to ensure those who use walking aids/wheel chairs can engage fully in any group activities and discussions.  There is helpful guidance about choosing and setting up inclusive spaces on page 8 in the ‘Developing Inclusive Conferences’ document developed by Alice Chautard and Claire Hann (both University of Oxford). Putting up clear signage is really important (and where necessary including translations/braille/read aloud QR codes).

Welcoming people to the research encounter

The way people are welcomed into the research environment is really important, especially if it is the first time they are engaging in research or with researchers. Creating spaces where co-researchers/participants (and anyone accompanying them) feel safe and at ease is really important.

Researcher Insight:
‘For any families that take part in our research, we have a little reception that has some toys and some stickers on the wall. So basically trying to make it a bit more child-friendly. And then usually when the families arrive, we spend a bit of time just getting to know the family and making sure that their child feels comfortable and gets used to the new environment. So then we play with them a little bit, and then also at the same time explain the study and what we're going to do.’ (Researcher 6)

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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)