NEWS18 March 2014

Connecting to nodes

“Research is about people,” said Fiona Wood, insight consultant and chair of the MRS Annual Conference session, ‘A voice for the seldom heard’. “Understanding people is our business,” she said.

This includes hard-to-reach minority groups, of course: those who don’t want to be contacted or who slip through the net; the very poor; the very wealthy; the very young and the very old, to name but a few.

“Effective research, hearing the views of the seldom heard, can help turn a good service into a great one,” said Wood.

An illustrative case study served up to delegates involved work conducted by the corporate policy unit at Southwark Council, along with Robin Pharoah, owner of ESRO, an ethnographic research specialist.

Southwark’s Dan Gilby, from the council’s corporate policy unit, explained that the brief was to uncover and quantify the needs and living patterns of the council’s frequently hidden population of recent migrants. Many of these, explained Pharoah, fall under the radar and escape official ONS figures – essentially not existing, according to official estimates.

But councils, he pointed out, need to know about their populations. Gilby explained: “It affects future planning around service delivery … we are concerned about funding if our population is under-counted.”

The session uncovered the need to go beyond traditional research methods when it comes to hard-to-reach groups, with Pharoah pointing to the use of what he termed ‘nodes’, to deliver insight into certain migrant populations. He defined these ‘nodes’ as individuals who provide services to migrants, such as a landlord, a church or a mosque leader. These service providers are often altruistic, but not always, he warned.