Guidelines for recruitment and conducting co-production with neurodivergent children and adults

Blog 4 of 4 in the Insights From Researchers on Co-production blog series

EPIC blogs usually focus on parent, teacher and clinician audiences. This series of blogs are the findings from a workshop for researchers entitled Overcoming barriers to co-production with children and adults with neurodevelopmental disabilities which took place during the Neurodevelopmental Disorders Annual Seminar 2022 held in Edinburgh. Following on from this series we will have the Insights from a Lived experience on Co-production blog series which will focus on getting involved in decision making about research from a parent perspective – Starting next week!

Inclusive Practices for Neurodevelopmental Research (Fletcher-Watson et al. 2021), The AASPIRE practice-based guidelines for the inclusion of autistic adults in research as co-researchers and study participants (2019) and Starter Pack: Participatory Autism Research (2017) are excellent starting points for planning a co-produced project with people with neurodevelopmental conditions like autism, ADHD, dyspraxia, dyslexia, developmental language disorder or Tourette’s syndrome. These three resources give clear practical guidelines about transparency around partnership goals, defining roles, setting expectations, recruitment (who to recruit and how), accessibility, building and maintaining trust, understanding intersectionality, and payment. A barrier to co-production is that often the funding is awarded after the idea has been developed and submitted for a funding call. Solutions to this problem include: 1) using alternative funding (funding left over from other projects, small public engagement grants) 2) establishing a department or research group specific advisory group to help with the development of projects, opposed to a project-specific group. 

If the research is about children, a combination of neurodivergent children and adults is advised to co-produce the project (Fletcher-Watson et., 2021). For example, in our recent blog, Dr Rhodes explains how including the insights from children with ADHD improved the design of an intervention. Adults will have the hindsight, self-advocacy skills, language and understanding to identify research priorities. However, contributions from children or adolescents is recommended because a) they will be able to inform the practical side of the project (e.g. designing a feasible study) and, b) may also have perspectives on themes the adults do not have experience of (e.g. about social media, school during the pandemic).  The interesting thing about doing co-production with children is that they may say the relevant piece of feedback at any moment. For example, the researcher might ask at the start of a group activity “what needs to change in your school?”. It may be half an hour later a child says “bullying is so bad in my school”. The researcher must be engaged and alert to record moments like this one. 

Interviews and group workshops with children might work but more likely activities like writing, drawing, role-playing, puppets, describing pictures, taking pictures may work better depending on the age of the children. Questions may need to be adapted from “what would you like to see researched” to “if you were the principal in your school, what would you do?” Children may feel like they’ll get in trouble for criticising their school or services. Asking children to give feedback as a group somewhat addresses this issue. Providing a training day can improve children and adolescents confidence around raising problems. In addition, a training session/day can serve as an ice-breaker and allow a child build relationships with the research team and other children there. The structure of the co-production should also acknowledge the parents and in some cases the parents can facilitate the co-production; however it is important the parent does not speak for the child (even if they do not mean to). It is nice to recognise children’s contribution by giving them a certificate. 

As is the case with research more generally, people with intellectual disabilities (ID) are often excluded from co-production and participatory research. Perhaps co-production with people with ID may be more difficult, but that is not a reason not to do it. A culture shift needs to happen with researchers towards believing adults with ID can be collaborators/members of PPI groups. Di Lorito and colleagues (2018) conducted a systematic review of ‘co-research’ with adults with Intellectual disability and describe the barriers and facilitators. They mention the following facilitators: 1. Recruiting individuals who are motivated and interested (simply being a person with an ID does not mean they are suited to the role), 2. Formal/informal training of skills or learning about research  3. Defining the roles of the researcher, the person with ID and the support worker and being flexible with the roles changing at different stages of the project, 4. Being aware of practical challenges like finding an accessible location, time, informing carers 5. Developing strategies for communicating complex themes e.g. visual aids, breaking down complex tasks into multiple steps, offering one-to-one interviews 6. Good relationships with services. Another paper (Schwartz et al., 2020) describes contextual factors which facilitate co-production with people with ID like a research team with a genuine commitment to including the views of people with ID. Photovoice has recently been used for research with children (Khawam et al., 2022) and adults with neurodevelopmental conditions and intellectual disabilities and can also be used as a tool to support co-production and participatory research methods (Williamson et al., 2020). 

There is a variety of ways you can recruit people to join a co-production group: a) connecting through social media, possibly someone you have built a social media relationship with or someone whose posts are in line with the approach of the team, b) explicitly advertising on social media, c) partnering with charities, organisations or advocacy groups who are more often interested in being involved in the development of research d) emailing a known neurodivergent researcher/advocate who may want to get involved in research e) tagging an advertisement onto a science communication event e.g. public webinar for teachers or parents; see here for our previous blog on what makes teachers want to get involved in research.

When deciding who to recruit for co-production a mixture of community members and individuals with specific expertise is recommended (Nicolaidis et al., 2019). It is important to realise that the co-production group is not the same as the participant group (who will later take part in the research); and does not need to be ‘representative’ of the population in the same way a participant group would need to be. It is appropriate to recruit someone who has specialised skills or expertise in research, advocacy, and/or working in charities, organisations, or services (e.g. look at our advisory group for EPIC. After all, when recruiting for a research team, you look for researchers with particular skills not just any researcher.  

References and more resources: 

https://www.autistica.org.uk/our-research/research-toolkit

Ashworth, M., Crane, L., Steward, R., Bovis, M., & Pellicano, E. (2021). Toward empathetic autism research: Developing an autism-specific research passport. Autism in Adulthood, 3(3), 280-288. could also be used for involvement and co-production.

Fletcher-Watson, S., Brook, K., Hallett, S., Murray, F., & Crompton, C. J. (2021). Inclusive Practices for Neurodevelopmental Research. Current Developmental Disorders Reports, 1-10. 

Nicolaidis, C., Raymaker, D., Kapp, S. K., Baggs, A., Ashkenazy, E., McDonald, K., … & Joyce, A. (2019). The AASPIRE practice-based guidelines for the inclusion of autistic adults in research as co-researchers and study participants. Autism, 23(8), 2007-2019. 

Schwartz, A. E., Kramer, J. M., Cohn, E. S., & McDonald, K. E. (2020). “That felt like real engagement”: Fostering and maintaining inclusive research collaborations with individuals with intellectual disability. Qualitative health research, 30(2), 236-249. 

 Di Lorito, C., Bosco, A., Birt, L., & Hassiotis, A. (2018). Co‐research with adults with intellectual disability: A systematic review. Journal of Applied Research in Intellectual Disabilities31(5), 669-686.

Williamson, H. J., van Heumen, L., & Schwartz, A. E. (2020). Photovoice with individuals with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities: Lessons learned from inclusive research efforts. Collaborations: A Journal of Community-Based Research and Practice, 3(1).

Khawam, G., Christie, H., McConachie, D., Goodall, K., Van Herwegen, J., Gallagher- Mitchell, T., Ballantyne, C., Richards, C., Moss, J., Crawford, H., Outhwaite, L.& Gillespie Smith, K. (2022).Road to recovery: Understanding the impact of COVID and recovery phases on children and young people with Intellectual Disabilities and their families. Open Science Framework. https://osf.io/e3yzj

Davison, J., Maguire, S., McLaughlin, M., & Simms, V. (2022). Involving adolescents with intellectual disability in the adaptation of self‐reported subjective well‐being measures: participatory research and methodological considerations. Journal of Intellectual Disability Research.

http://triumph.sphsu.gla.ac.uk/about-us/

syp.org.uk

This workshop was funded by the University of Edinburgh College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine Public Engagement Seed Fund through the Institutional Strategic Support Fund

Science Communication and Public Engagement for Research about Neurodiversity and Disabilities

Blog 3 of 4 in the Insights From Researchers on Co-production blog series

EPIC blogs usually focus on parent, teacher and clinician audiences. This series of blogs are the findings from a workshop for researchers entitled Overcoming barriers to co-production with children and adults with neurodevelopmental disabilities which took place during the Neurodevelopmental Disorders Annual Seminar 2022 held in Edinburgh. Following on from this series we will have the Insights from a Lived experience on Co-production blog series which will focus on getting involved in decision making about research from a parent perspective.

Dissemination of research findings is about sharing the results with people who the research is relevant to (neurodivergent/disabled people, families/carers, policy makers, clinicians, educators, other researchers, people who are interested and the wider public). This can take many forms; public talks, websites, blog posts, podcasts, YouTube videos, social media, science festival events, art shows, television/radio appearances, comic book stories, animated videos, infographics, museum exhibitions, school outreach, or events at zoos, shopping centres, or parks.

The research team should think strategically about how best to disseminate their findings and what are their aims are and what is the potential impact they hope to have. Developing a Public Engagement Strategy for a project, research group, or department can be helpful in clarifying the aims, context, risks, and plan of action (NCCPE, 2017).  Often researchers think the purpose of science communication is to inform the public about research findings or create better understanding. However, there are many other benefits; reducing stigma, creating a sense of community, improving self-esteem, shifting culture, providing information that is comforting, creating hope, inspiring young people to work in research, and changing attitudes and behaviour. There are benefits to the research team as well such as i) having an opportunity to hear people’s feedback and concerns, ii) improving the reputation or increasing the visibility of the research team leading to more recruitment (both for co-production or research studies), iii) opportunity to establish and maintain connections (add names to a mailing list, social media connections). Developing a strategy can also highlight the necessary context for the aims to be met: support from university engagement officers, public engagement grants, perhaps making part of a research assistant/post-doc’s job description to manage the public engagement, training requirements/courses available, and working with your University’s overarching public engagement strategy. A logic model (NCCPE, 2017) can be used to evaluate the short-term outcomes and long-term impact. The evaluation can be characterised as a reflective and iterative process where the public engagement strategy is evaluated each year and updated accordingly. Guidelines from den Houting (2021) has two templates for how you might start to develop a plan for a science communication event.

The science communication or public engagement event can also be co-created with the target audience (e.g. neurodivergent people, teachers, parents). Their contribution will ensure the findings are accessible and that the message of the science communication is what the researchers intended to say and sensitive to the community. Neurodivergent artists or graphic designers can help with the design of output materials or make a brand logo for the research group. For example Emma Ferrier made the logo for my PhD study and the logo for EPIC (see below) . See her website here https://www.emmanovella.co.uk

Positioning an event within larger events or initiative is another way to reach more people e.g. organising events around Autism Acceptance month. High quality science communication should always aim to place the new findings within the context of previous research/future research plans and within the context of the individual’s everyday life. For example, if a researcher is sharing findings about a recent project looking at sensory experiences, the science communication should highlight how the findings may be affecting autistic people’s daily experiences. See below for some creative examples of public engagement work in the area of neurodiversity, disabilities, and mental health. 

References and more resources: 

Reed, M. S., Duncan, S., Manners, P., Pound, D., Armitage, L., Frewer, L. J., … & Frost, B. (2018). A common standard for the evaluation of public engagement with research. Research for All. DOI: 10.18546/RFA.02.1.13. <- excellent paper, one of my favourites. Includes a structure for evaluating public engagement and creative ways to collect the feedback

Helpful website with training and more resources: https://www.fasttrackimpact.com

den Houting, J. (2021). Participatory and Inclusive Autism Research Practice Guides. Brisbane. Autism CRC.https://www.autismcrc.com.au/access/sites/default/files/resources/Participatory_and_Inclusive_Autism_Research_Practice_Guides.pdf

National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement (2017) ‘Developing a public engagement strategy’ ‘guide Available at https://www.publicengagement.ac.uk/sites/default/files/publication/developing_a_public_engagement_strategy.pdf

National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement (2017) How to evaluate your public engagement support programme Available at https://www.publicengagement.ac.uk/sites/default/files/publication/evaluating_your_support_programme.pdf

Good practices for science communication on social media https://questproject.eu/recommendations-for-science-communication-on-social-media/

The Scotland Policy and Research Exchange website has guidance on how to work with policy makers https://spre.scot

https://www.parliament.scot/chamber-and-committees/research-prepared-for-parliament/about-research

Seven principles for public engagement in science and innovation policymaking. A guide from Nesta’s Inclusive Innovation team https://media.nesta.org.uk/documents/Seven_principles_HlLwdow.pdf

Creative examples of public engagement work for research on mental health and disabilities 

https://www.ucl.ac.uk/ioe/news/2017/jun/toolkit-released-bust-stigmas-about-autism

https://blogs.exeter.ac.uk/exploringdiagnosis/about-us/public-engagement-strategy/

https://www.publicengagement.ac.uk/do-engagement/inspire-me/case-studies

https://braininstitute.ca/resources/pond-youth-digital-stories

https://www.comorment.uio.no/press-and-outreach/science-festival-activities/risk-and-resilience.html


This workshop was funded by the University of Edinburgh College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine Public Engagement Seed Fund through the Institutional Strategic Support Fund.

Better not do it at all, than do co-production badly: Trust, Expectations & Payment

Blog 2 of 4 in the Insights From Researchers on Co-production blog series

EPIC blogs usually focus on parent, teacher and clinician audiences. This series of blogs are the findings from a workshop for researchers entitled Overcoming barriers to co-production with children and adults with neurodevelopmental disabilities which took place during the Neurodevelopmental Disorders Annual Seminar 2022 held in Edinburgh. Following on from this series we will have the Insights from a Lived experience on Co-production blog series which will focus on getting involved in decision making about research from a parent perspective. 

Disabled and neurodivergent people have historically been excluded from the decision-making process about research about them. For this reason, it is important the research team take trust and transparency very seriously. It is important for the researcher to be transparent about which decisions have already been made and restrictions imposed by funding, research design, or time. If trust is lost, members may drop out, not take part in future involvement work or discourage other people from involvement. In this way, tokenistic involvement is damaging and makes the wedge between the community and researchers bigger. Furthermore, as Emma Pauley (invited speaker at the workshop, lived experience with co-production) pointed out, it can also negatively affect the self-esteem and mental well-being of members of the community who give up their time to take part in co-production, only to realise at a later point, none of their feedback has been taken on board. 

Setting expectations about the co-production work is key to developing good working relationships. Before agreeing to take part, the co-production group should know what is expected of them, the time commitment, and how much they’ll be paid. Bagley and colleagues (2016) provide an example of a Terms of Reference document which could be used to lay out expectations. I think for a larger scale project perhaps using a document like this could be sensible, however for a small scale project, when paper work could be off putting for people with neurodevelopmental conditions, simply setting expectations verbally and/or by email may be more appropriate. Whichever way you decide to set expectations, being clear about how much power the co-production group will have is crucial. Phrases like “consultation”, “genuine co-production”, “equal partnership” “participatory research” are often used to describe different levels of power (although it seems people often mean slightly different things when they use these terms and terms have different connotations). It is important to explain what you mean by these terms when having meeting with the your research team, the co-production group, and when setting out expectations. 

Describing your positionality when first meeting your co-production group can be helpful in creating trust. For example, explaining what your background is, if you are neurotypical/neurodivergent/disabled, explaining how the idea for the project developed, where you are in your career, and/or how you came to be interested in this work. When recruiting a new co-production group, it can be useful to share a document, or website explaining the research team’s recent work or previous collaboration work (Fletcher-Watson et al., 2021).  

Payment also relates to trust as fair payment communicates respect. In some cases, a co-researcher may want authorship instead or certain groups might need their travel paid for in advance. For this reason, a conversation at the start about payment should happen. The NIHR website below has guidelines on payment rates and what to do if they are in receipt of state benefits, job seeker allowance, or carer’s allowance to avoid reduction. 

Researchers will make mistakes. But what’s important is owning up to the mistakes and apologising. Nicolaidis and colleagues (2019) point out for trust to build and be maintained there must be a willingness to learn and forgive. 

References and more resources: 

Bagley, H. J., Short, H., Harman, N. L., Hickey, H. R., Gamble, C. L., Woolfall, K., Young, B., & Williamson, P. R. (2016). A patient and public involvement (PPI) toolkit for meaningful and flexible involvement in clinical trials – a work in progress. Research involvement and engagement2, 15. https://doi.org/10.1186/s40900-016-0029-8 <- excellent resource for thinking about patient and public involvement for a trial 

Fletcher-Watson, S., Brook, K., Hallett, S., Murray, F., & Crompton, C. J. (2021). Inclusive Practices for Neurodevelopmental Research. Current Developmental Disorders Reports, 1-10. 

Nicolaidis, C., Raymaker, D., Kapp, S. K., Baggs, A., Ashkenazy, E., McDonald, K., … & Joyce, A. (2019). The AASPIRE practice-based guidelines for the inclusion of autistic adults in research as co-researchers and study participants. Autism, 23(8), 2007-2019.

Recently updated payment guidelines:

https://www.nihr.ac.uk/documents/Payment-for-Public-Involvement-in-Health-and-Care-Research-A-guide-for-organisations-on-determining-the-most-appropriate-payment-approach/30838

This workshop was funded by the University of Edinburgh College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine Public Engagement Seed Fund through the Institutional Strategic Support Fund.

Evaluation of co-production 

Blog 1 of 4 in the Insights From Researchers on Co-production blog series

EPIC blogs usually focus on parent, teacher and clinician readers. This series of blogs are the findings from a workshop for researchers entitled Overcoming barriers to co-production with children and adults with neurodevelopmental disabilities which took place during the Neurodevelopmental Disorders Annual Seminar 2022 held in Edinburgh. Following on from this series we will have the Insights from a Lived experience on Co-production blog series which will focus on getting involved in decision making about research from a parent perspective.

During the workshop, we split into groups to work on challenges associated with co-production. Attendees self-selected to one of six groups: 1) Recruitment and Partnership building, 2) Payment, Expectations, and Trust, 3) Facilitation of co-production with adults, 4) Facilitation of co-production with children and adolescents, 5) Evaluation or 6) Dissemination and public engagement. 

No one went to the Evaluation group. And so, I decided to write this blog first as there is seemingly a lack of confidence in this area with researchers. The other reason Evaluation is the first entry in this blog series, is because evaluation is something you need to think about at the beginning. 

Evaluation of co-production can be thought of in two parts: evaluating the process of co-production and evaluating the impact of the co-production on the project. Evaluating the process can be formative and summative (den Houting, 2021). Formative evaluation is evaluating the design for a given purpose and context. Collecting this formative feedback could take the form of for example, 1) checking with your project patient and public involvement co-ordinator if the structure of the workshop you’ve designed makes sense or if the questions are clear, 2) checking the activity with 1 or 2 children before doing it with ten, 3) asking a colleague who has conducted similar work if they think the design will work well. If co-production for a project is long-term e.g. over a year, formative evaluation could be collecting feedback from your  group about how the co-production process could be improved e.g. shorter meetings, sending the agenda in advance, switching to texting instead of email for communication. Recording who came to a meeting, their ages, diagnoses, ethnicities, or other relevant information like membership in charities/organisations or research experience is important for reflecting on whether other people may need to be recruited. It can be helpful if an indicator of understanding amongst the group is collected e.g. asking members to summarise the main points of the day at the end of a workshop – this point is more relevant to working with children. 

Summative evaluation of the co-production process is important as it holds the researchers accountable and provides impetus for the research team to reflect and change their processes for the next project. This can involve asking the co-production and the research team about how the co-production went. den Houting (2021) provides some examples of questionnaires and interview questions to evaluate the process of co-production. 

Finally, recording the impact of the co-production on the project. Evaluating impact of the co-production on the project can be supported by a framework like the Public Involvement Impact Assessment Framework (PiiAF) (Popay & Collins, 2017). The framework can also be used as a means of setting expectations with the co-production group at the start. When co-production is carried out well it is embedded in the research design process and gradual; it can be tricky to look back and remember exactly what the co-production group contributed to the project. The researcher might think a year later “was adding the a measure of well-being to the project my idea or their idea? Or did it arise in a discussion we had…I think it was my idea…but I think I had that idea as a result of something the co-production group said..oh I can’t remember!”. Developing a plan at the beginning of co-production to record the feedback avoids this problem. This can take the form of recording notes during each meeting and then under the notes writing a reflective piece about which parts will inform the project. When it is time to write your paper, you will be able to succinctly write how involvement impacted the project. Do not forget to record praise for the project as well. 

Patient and public involvement is a part of the research process like funding, design, data collection, analysis. I agree with Edelman and Barron (2016) when they say patient and public involvement (PPI) should not be evaluated like a sort of complex intervention on the project. They make the interesting point that PPI is a ‘contribution of expertise and advocacy, equitable to the contribution of clinicians, statisticians or others.’ Would you test the contribution of a statistician on a project? With the help of a framework like the PiiAF, thinking about the aims, desired outcomes, and indicators of those outcomes is useful for 1) designing the structure of your co-production work (how many sessions will be needed, what we need to cover in them), 2) setting expectations for the co-production group and the rest of the research team, and 3) looking ahead to decide how you will record feedback and how it informs the project. But testing co-production, like you would other variables in your research project, is not necessary in most cases. 

References and more resources: 

Popay, J., Collins, M., & with the PiiAF Study Group. (2014). The public involvement impact assessment framework guidance. Universities of Lancaster, Liverpool and Exeter https://piiaf.org.uk (full and short version available)

Collins, M., Long, R., Page, A., Popay, J., & Lobban, F. (2018). Using the Public Involvement Impact Assessment Framework to assess the impact of public involvement in a mental health research context: A reflective case study. Health expectations : an international journal of public participation in health care and health policy, 21(6), 950–963. https://doi.org/10.1111/hex.12688

den Houting, J. (2021). Participatory and Inclusive Autism Research Practice Guides. Brisbane. AutismCRC.https://www.autismcrc.com.au/access/sites/default/files/resources/Participatory_and_Inclusive_Autism_Research_Practice_Guides.pdf

Edelman, N., & Barron, D. (2016). Evaluation of public involvement in research: time for a major re-think?. Journal of health services research & policy, 21(3), 209–211. https://doi.org/10.1177/1355819615612510&nbsp;

This workshop was funded by the University of Edinburgh College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine Public Engagement Seed Fund through the Institutional Strategic Support Fund.

Outputs from our co-production workshop

The Neurodevelopmental Disorders Annual Seminar was held in Edinburgh this year. During the event, we held a workshop called Overcoming barriers to co-production with children and adults with neurodevelopmental disabilities.

Many researchers feel unprepared to co-produce research with people with neurodevelopmental disabilities, while still believing in the value of co-production. This workshop aimed to address this gap, by giving researchers an overview of the main challenges to co-production and how to overcome them.

We had three excellent speakers:

Dr Laura Crane, co-director of Centre for Research in Autism and Education (CRAE) at University College London. In her talk, she explained her journey into participatory research methods, how research about autistic people has changed in the last few years, challenges and solutions to co-production work.

You can see her presentation on our YouTube channel here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qMSrhVBn4sk&t=27s

Ailbhe Mckinney talking and Sarah O’Brien on the big screen giving her views during the discussion part of the workshop

Next, we had Sarah O’Brien, a PhD researcher at Kings College London. She talked about co-production from the perspective of conducting it as a facilitator but also being involved as an autistic and dyspraxic individual. She talks about what she learnt along the way. 

See her talk here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZaBizLjR0rI&t=346s

Finally, we had Emma Pauley, who is a parent and co-production advocate. She talked about being involved in genuine co-production and then, tokenistic co-production. She spoke about how it was easy for her to see the difference and how they made her feel. 

In the afternoon of the workshop, attendees (45 researchers in the area of neurodevelopmental conditions) discussed challenges and solutions to co-production across six themes: 1) Recruitment and Partnership building, 2) Payment, Expectations, and Trust, 3) Facilitation of co-production with adults, 4) Facilitation of co-production with children and adolescents, 5) Evaluation or 6) Dissemination and public engagement. 

Over July and August we will be posting two blog series summarising the outputs from this workshop: starting this week with the: ‘Insights from Researchers on Co-production blog series. and then, later in the summer Emma Pauley’s series ‘Insights from a Lived experience on Co-production blog series’

This workshop was funded by the University of Edinburgh College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine Public Engagement Seed Fund through the Institutional Strategic Support Fund.

How can researchers encourage teaching professionals to get involved in research?

This blog post is pitched to researchers and how best to encourage teachers and other education professionals to get involved in research. The work described in this post was funded by a Wellcome Trust, University of Edinburgh, Institutional Strategic Support Fund award.

Administering interventions through schools is a promising strategy for improving the wellbeing and learning of children with mental health problems or neurodevelopmental diagnoses, like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism, dyspraxia/Developmental coordination disorder (DCD), dyslexia or for children who are born preterm. For these interventions to be developed and tested, the involvement of teachers, head teachers, teaching assistants, pupil support officers, guidance counsellors, and other education professionals are essential. Yet, these stakeholders are often stretched thinly and often turn down research as they are worried it will take up too much time with few gains. How can researchers motivate and encourage teachers and other education professionals to get involved in research?

We held a ‘Knowledge Exchange’ workshop with primary school teachers to understand why teachers choose to take part in research and how we can encourage more to do so. The workshop also included an update on our research findings and some myth busting around ADHD, making it a knowledge exchange workshop with mutual benefit. Their insights are organised by theme below:

  1. Pointing out that involvement can be a part of Continued Professional Development

Researchers can remind teaching professionals that their involvement in research can be a part of their continued professional development. For example, the General Teaching Council for Scotland encourages teachers to take part in Professional Learning such as online learning, professional dialogue with colleagues, critical analysis of reading, masters courses, or attending conferences. Research engagement also counts as professional learning.  Researchers can point out that teachers can log their research participation in their professional learning records. Teachers are guided by the Professional Standards when selecting learning opportunities. Researchers can highlight that their research is in line with the professional standards and therefore teachers can appropriately log it as their professional learning. For example, one teacher in our workshop mentioned learning about strategies for helping children with ADHD (the focus of the research project they were involved in with us) was in line with the social justice and professional commitment section of the Professional Standards. For more information see the General Teaching Council for Scotland’s page on Professional Learning.

  • Sharing new strategies for problem solving in the classroom

Teachers mentioned that they were more likely to take part in research if it is likely to directly benefit their classroom, for example in helping them develop new strategies for teaching children.  All teachers mentioned the main reason they took part in our research study was because a child in their class had the developmental diagnosis (ADHD) we were researching in that particular project, and they wanted to improve the strategies they use with them. However, they recognised that the strategies could be used to help children with other neurodevelopmental conditions or children struggling for any reason (e.g. mental health difficulties, problems at home). One in five children have a neurodevelopmental condition and so it is likely that a teacher will have a pupil in their class who needs extra support. Yet, there is little formal training on teaching neurodivergent children. Even in some school communities where there is a focus on improving outcomes for children with neurodevelopmental conditions, they often focus primarily on autism forgetting other disabilities, our workshop teachers pointed out. Therefore our particular focus in the research project we had engaged with them – ADHD, a condition associated with a lot of myths and uncertainties, attracted the teachers to take part. Researchers can remind teachers of the direct impact taking part in research may have on their understanding of their pupils, their teaching practice, or their approach to dealing with problems in the classroom.

  • Being flexible and transparent with timing

Teachers mentioned the main reason they would not take part in future research was being asked during a busy time of the year. Some teachers shared they were initially hesitant to take part because they were worried it would take up too much time. The start and end of term were highlighted as particularly inconvenient times. It is important to point out the teachers are not just concerned about time flexibility for their own schedules but often do not want their pupil’s routine to be disrupted or miss a certain lesson. For example, the idea of a researcher only being available at one time meaning the child missed P.E./gym class was not attractive to participation.

Teachers mentioned it was helpful that our research team was flexible with timing, offered a lot of time slots, and generally worked around the teachers’ schedule. Online meetings and workshops offer convenience in eliminating travel time, but it was also mentioned that face-to-face work is more meaningful. Following completion, teachers said that it was not as time consuming as they thought it would be. Researchers should mention in their initial email to teachers exactly how much time it will take up, offer flexible timing, and aim to contact them at less busy times of the term.

  • Explaining the wider implications of the research

Teachers were pleasantly surprised to learn that this research taking place across schools in Edinburgh would be published in international journals, shared around the world at conferences, and had the potential to help many more children in the future. Researchers can mention the impact of a project and the long-term implications of the teachers’ contributions. In this way, instilling a sense of pride, well-deserved in any case, facilitates motivation to take part. Teachers also mentioned it was empowering to be asked for their view throughout the research as opposed to being a passive party in the process. Explaining to teachers that their contributions will ultimately improve the research (in our case the design of an intervention) by making it more accessible and feasible for other teachers is another point to highlight if applicable.  

At the onset of the recruitment, researchers can cover these points when explaining the project in their initial email or phone call.  We believe that highlighting and considering the above points when developing a partnership with teaching professionals will result in a symbiotic relationship conducive to research.

Visual production credit: Photograph by ALotOfPeople via Getty Images