In Part 5a of my series, Diary of a Research Fellow, I explained the reasoning behind holding an advisory meeting with my research stakeholders. As well as trying to co-produce the project and develop it so that it might have some impact for the third and voluntary sectors in Leeds and perhaps, wider society, I also had findings from the qualitative secondary analysis to share. This analysis played an important role in shaping the new empirical project and choices about sampling. In today’s post I explain how the meeting was organised and consider the potential implications for the outcomes of the project. I do this stage by stage.
1. Prior to the Meeting
The meeting itself required a lot of thought and careful planning in order to ensure that it could work successfully and provide the right outcomes. I wanted to make sure that both the project and my stakeholders benefitted from the meeting. I followed a multi-stage process to ensure that the practical and substantial outcomes of the meeting could be achieved. This process consisted of;
- Thinking through the aims and objectives of the meeting and anticipating outcomes,
- Working closely with a member of staff development at the university who has experience of organising meetings with project stakeholders in order to meet these aims, and longer term, to effect hopefully, positive change,
- Inviting stakeholders that I felt would work well together at the meeting and sending them very carefully thought through invitations, explaining the nature and purpose of the meeting,
- Organising a time and place to hold the meeting that most people could attend.
Of particular importance to me at the invitation stage was that I managed expectations, that I clearly communicated what I wanted to achieve and that I made it very clear how this meeting might also benefit my stakeholders. At this stage I also shared the outcomes of the secondary analysis (in a document, pictured here) so that the participants could reflect on them and come to the meeting with some ideas already thought through. This was the first time I had shared some of the analysis and the emergent themes across the datasets. I had several concerns at the time, particularly about whether or not people would be able to commit the time and whether or not there would be a clash in priorities and motivations for attending, and these had to be carefully thought through as well.
2. Have a facilitator
During a training session I attended about impact prior to the meeting, I met a colleague who works for staff development at the university. The main part of his role is helping academics to engage with wider society and to develop their research so that it might have an impact. I contacted my newly found colleague following this training session and explained my idea about holding a stakeholder meeting and potentially sharing my secondary analysis data. This was something new for both of us but between us we had experiences and knowledge that would help us to design and run the meeting. I was the lead on the project and had been meeting with people from the third sector already to gauge their interest in the project. I had also developed the project questions and aims based on the secondary analysis. My colleague has never run a stakeholder meeting with the social care sector before but had experience of holding other meetings and a sense of the kinds of activities that could be run on the day to encourage discussion and meet the aims of the meeting itself. Together, we devised a number of activities that were designed to generate information about how the project could be developed in relation to current third sector goals and priorities. Across several meetings we ensured that the meeting had a coherent narrative and that each activity built logically from the next.
My colleague also ran the meeting on my behalf. This was incredibly helpful because it ensured that I could keep my focus on the content of the discussions and not on the practical worries of keeping the meeting running. Activities such as keeping to time, working out which resources are required when and next etc can be very distracting from engaging fully in the discussions taking place. I was glad to hand this side of things over to someone else and to have the opportunity to really listen and engage without worrying about the next activity.
Five people attended the meeting (two sent apologies), but this was enough to generate outcomes and to manage the meeting effectively. At the start of the meeting I presented very briefly about the research and my interest in the topic and provided an overview of the academic literature, locating the project and arguing that there remains a gap in evidence about men’s experiences of living on low-incomes and how they negotiate their care responsibilities. I discussed the policy context and tried to set expectations by explaining my time and funding constraints.
From this point on, we began the activities, designed to find out as much as possible including; their knowledge of the third sector in Leeds; key local influencers; the goals and priorities of each organisation; their stories about working with the men; and finally, their ideas for developing the research itself. We began with introductions and asked each participant to explain their current work with men on low-incomes and about why each organisation was interested in the project and how they might benefit. We followed this with a second activity which involved asking them to conduct a stakeholder analysis on my behalf. This was an excellent exercise for confirming that I had been meeting with the right people in the local area and for identifying others who I may need to get in touch with.
Using a poster and post-it notes we constructed a capacity/influence grid based on the influence-interest grid by the Imperial College London. We changed the term influence to capacity at the request of the group, who felt that those who had the capacity to create change might be more useful. Using post-its, the group added organisations and agencies at both national and local scales to the relevant boxes. Interestingly, it was suggested that third sector and voluntary organisations were most likely to have the highest interest and highest capacity to affect change, particularly early in the research.
Following a break, we ran two further activities. Using Powerpoint, I displayed the themes and examples of quotes from the qualitative data from the secondary analysis that had been sent to the group previously. This prompted additional discussion of stories about the men that the group already worked with, providing insights into some of the issues these men seek support for and additional information about potential participants that I could access to take part in the research.
In the final task, I shifted focus from getting an understanding of the roles of my stakeholders and their experiences of working with men, to consideration of how the project needed to be developed, in light of what had already been discussed. I split the group into two and using A3 sheets of paper to take notes, asked the participants to discuss two of the four research questions and to provide an opinion on whether or not they were appropriate or if they required some development. I also asked them who they thought should be included in the sample; what men and with what kinds of experiences? This proved to be a really useful exercise in confirming that the project was on the right track and had the potential to be useful, and for developing the research questions. Two of the research questions for example were very similar and one group identified a need to understand how spaces of support can be created for men in the local area. This prompted a re-writing of one of the main research questions and will hopefully ensure that the project generates useful evidence by shaping the methodology.
4. Next steps
I am now writing up the outcomes of the meeting into a report (which I will post on the blog when written) and have re-written the research questions based on the discussions we had. The meeting confirmed that the topic is of interest and that additional evidence is required. It has also given me personal confidence moving forwards. I now also have an established advisory team that has agreed to take part in meetings as the research progresses if they can commit the time. The meeting has proven to be a useful exercise of co-production and has ensured that the outcomes of the qualitative secondary analysis has been included in this process.