One way to disseminate ethically, if appropriate, is to involve your research participants in dissemination activities and to include these activities as a central part of the funded research study.
This can be done in various ways, and it is beyond the scope of this guidebook to discuss them in detail. Kindon and colleagues’ (2007) edited volume on participatory approaches gives examples of participant involvement in dissemination through a range of techniques, including drama and visual arts, and Manzo and Brightbill, in this volume, discuss some of the ethics considerations involved in participatory approaches to dissemination. These authors argue that ‘ethics as conventionally interpreted tends to buttress existing power relationships in research and in society’ (p39). Involvement of participants in dissemination offers one way of forefronting their voices, rather than the authority of the ‘expert’ researcher.
The box below gives an example of dissemination involving young people as participants in a recent study – illustrating the ethics considerations involved in participant dissemination, as well as the potential benefits of this kind of approach.
Participant involvement in dissemination: an example.
As part of dissemination from a project on health in schools, a group of young people aged between 11-16 years were invited to present their own perspectives on health. In doing so, young people sought the views of their peers and spent many months putting together a video. Opening the conference, young people prioritised ‘being happy’ and ‘having fun’ as key components of their health and well-being. They criticised negative images of young people as troublesome and ‘out of control’ and challenged conference delegates to reframe young people’s health in a more positive light.
Responses from the audience were extremely positive, but also revealed adult-defined understandings of health. Questions presented to young people were largely framed on health priority areas and were conveyed in ‘adult’ language. This questioning challenged young people in a number of ways. Firstly, they were required to interpret the meaning of such questions; and then secondly, to respond in what might be considered an ‘appropriate’ way to a largely adult audience. Months of preparation were needed to ensure young people felt comfortable responding to any challenges, without exposing them to any difficult circumstances.
The making of the video, and its subsequent viewing, revealed some of the complexity of involving participants in the dissemination of their perspectives. Concerns for anonymity were raised as young people, teachers and school were identifiable within the video. Permission was sought from young people, parents/guardians, teachers, and the school as a whole to ensure full understanding of the purpose of the conference and to confirm the parameters of anonymity.
Secondly, the original version of the video raised some concerns as young people’s displays of ‘having fun’ could be taken and reframed as ‘messing about’ – particularly when this was coupled with bad language and might ultimately compromise the intended message. Whilst attempting to let young people take ownership of the video and its content, some careful editing was necessary to avoid this alternative meaning and any negative response from the school and conference delegates. This raised questions as to whether young people’s perspectives were actually marginalised, and even reframed, during the editing stages in order to conform to adult acceptable ways of speaking.
Finally, and on a similar point, the school’s endorsement of the end product was a prerequisite prior to public viewing. Examples of ‘being bored’ at school were removed so as to not compromise the school’s reputation. This again altered young people’s intended meanings. Dissemination of young people’s perspectives was therefore subject to the frames of reference set by the school and wider adult audience. This reveals a significant tension when disseminating young people’s perspectives in adult dominated contexts, particularly if such perspectives depart from the accepted conventions of such contexts.