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Members' Blog: Research outside academic walls

It was a moment of jubilation when I learned that my idea for a research project, submitted to the Research in the Third Age competition, had won joint second prize. The idea was to investigate older people’s views on and experiences of getting help from neighbours. Euphoria, however, was quickly replaced by a more level-headed awareness of the task ahead - turning the ‘idea’ into ‘reality’. I was not going to be doing the research on my own though, as we had already established a research group at Tynedale U3A.

"Our research group was not based in a university department with all of its resources..."

Being a little daunted about undertaking the project was not due to lack of research experience but because our research group was not based in a university department with all of its resources – information and library services, networks of advice and information, and equipment such as digital voice recorders (DVRs). We found people who could help. As a result of meetings with officials from Northumbria Region U3A and Voice North, we made contact with a voluntary organisation who agreed to help recruit research participants, were given potential sources of research grants, the loan of DVRs to record interviews and the offer of ongoing support as the need arose. We did not manage to resolve the problem of accessing a university library. However, through using the search engine Google Scholar, I managed to find research articles and reports that were relevant to our research topic.

There was another issue which preoccupied me, which was how to think through the ethics of the research process. In a university there are committees that do this job. I found a helpful set of guidelines on the British Sociological Association website.

"Research should not just become an academic piece but the findings be brought to the attention of people who shape social care"

We were ready to start the field work. Gathering accounts of experiences of neighbouring was a privilege. The people we talked to were very obliging. At first their accounts seemed quite varied but as I read through the transcripts patterns started to emerge and unexpected findings too. Analysing this kind of data is very time consuming but also gripping as you try to see the world through the participants’ eyes and understand the meaning and significance of what they relate.

After completing the report of the research, the next and very important phase was disseminating it, including to those who participated in the study. I feel strongly that the research should not just become an academic piece but the findings be brought to the attention of people who shape social care policies and procedures. Again we turned to those who had assisted us at the outset to ask for suggestions of ways of spreading the findings to relevant parties.

Dissemination has proved challenging. I felt it necessary to get a paper published in a peer reviewed journal, to give the research the same credibility as if it had been done in an orthodox university, before taking the research findings to policy makers and voluntary organisations. The first attempt has been unsuccessful, which is not unusual. One of the reasons given for rejecting the paper, though, was the circumstances in which the research came about. I have presented at two conferences and an ex-colleague has made some suggestions for improving the paper, so hopefully I will turn the corner and get the findings out there.

Janet Grime
Voice North member

You can read Janet's final research report here.

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