NEWS15 March 2017

Shining a light on taboo subjects – how research is informing and effecting change

Charities Healthcare Impact 2017 News Travel Trends UK

UK – Research projects are raising understanding of previously taboo subjects and helping bring about changes that improve people’s lives, the MRS conference, Impact 2017 has heard.

Introducing three case studies, Samantha Bond, research manager at SKIM, said taboos by their very nature were often hidden, highly complex, difficult to talk about and incredibly challenging to change.

* The ‘Report it to Stop It’ campaign by Transport for London to stop unwanted sexual contact on public transport followed extensive research among mainly female transport users, who told researchers from 2CV that such behaviour was commonplace, but was rarely reported to authorities.

2CV associate director Stephanie Gaydon, said it became apparent that unwanted behaviour covered a wide spectrum; what it all had in common was the way it made the victims feel: uncomfortable.

A campaign using online and social media was launched to promote the message that it’s never OK for other passengers to behave in ways that make someone feel uncomfortable, and that if a report was made it would be pursued.

Transport for London research and insight manager Rachel Rhodes said the rate of reporting doubled after the campaign launched, there was a 36% increase in arrests, and 86% of the target audience said they would report this kind of behaviour if it happened to them.

* In the London borough of Brent, researchers set about discovering how the council and the community might better support the estimated 2,500 people living in the area with dementia.

Part of the challenge, it emerged, was a sense of shame in some sections of the community about suffering from dementia. Research led by Neil Samson, director of Opinion Leader, involved a ‘horizon scan’ of community projects around the world to help local people with health problems, not just those with dementia. An ethnographic study involving six dementia patients brought to life some of the challenges people faced in daily life, and 20 non-researchers who worked in the community and often already knew local people with dementia were recruited to observe and ask questions.

This culminated in a design workshop session to come up with ways the community could meet some of dementia patients’ previously unmet needs. These include a peer support programme to tackle loneliness, and having dementia patients trial services such as cafes or hairdressers to see how dementia-friendly they are.

* The prevalence of child marriage in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Indonesia and Nicaragua was the subject of UN-backed research by Flamingo Research.

Director Rosa Bransky said 12 weeks of face-to-face interviews and group discussions made it clear that on this complex issue was often not as viewed from afar: very young girls being forcibly married to much older men. Rather, teenage girls were growing up in societies where sexual maturity outside marriage was seen as dangerous, and they were often agreeing to marriage because they were not aware there was an alternative.

“Cultural norms of control affect choices girls can access, but probably more fundamentally the choices that girls can imagine,” she said. “Often girls appear to be choosing to marry, but in reality they just haven’t been given the tools to conceptualise alternative pathways.”

Bransky said the backers of the research wanted to empower girls to demand change in their communities; the results of the research would be shared with girls in the communities that contributed, in the hope of helping girls first imagine change and then bring it about.