Voices of the Marginalised

Marion Steff, April 2013
A group of people standing in a slum area in Dhaka.

“Those in excluded situations rarely have their voices heard”

The pilot of the Voices of the Marginalised research study in Bangladesh is reaching its end.

This has been such a great initiative – what a difference it makes to conduct research which is truly participatory! Before getting into the learning, let me add some information about the study and the researchers.

The study
ADD International, HelpAge International and Sightsavers have been working with the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) to facilitate a participatory research study. Its goal is to bring the perspectives of those who are highly marginalised, including people with disabilities, older people and people living with mental health issues, into post-2015 policymaking. There is a growing recognition of inequalities which arise from marginalisation, where those in excluded situations rarely have the opportunity for their voices to be heard. They are made more invisible by a lack of relevant data. This research provides a real opportunity to contribute to building the body of data and evidence about what is needed to ensure the needs and rights of marginalised populations are included in current and future development initiatives such as the MDGs and their successor framework.

The researchers
Two types of researchers have been trained to conduct the study.  First, staff from national Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) working on ageing and disability issues have been involved. They are called Peer Researchers and they collected stories from peers to draw a picture of challenges national NGOs working with these groups are dealing with.

Second, older people and people with disabilities from Bhasantek slum in Dhaka and villages in the District of Cox’s Bazar have been contacted to see if they wanted to become Community Peer Researchers. They are individuals in challenging situations themselves (poverty, no livelihood, little support from relatives, lack of access to health services, etc) and are beneficiaries from national NGOs working in ageing or disability. Upon acceptance, they have been trained to collect stories from their peers

The learning
All 18 researchers have been engaged in the analysis of the stories to provide their perspective on the findings. This means 140 stories have been analysed to form the basis of a publication. While the findings will be available in May, I can already talk about the experience and learning the researchers gained from this experience. I will focus on the community peer researchers because it was the first time they had the opportunity to be involved in a research study.

What the community peer researchers enjoyed and gained

The researchers enjoyed being involved in the whole process, from the design of the study to the elaboration of the questions, the collection of the data, and the analysis of the results. They felt they were for the first time fully included in a context where they had the opportunity to speak up, make a difference, and gather the views of other people, in similar poverty situations. While at first, the researchers were unsure what they would gain from the study, they quickly grasped that the experience could prove to be stimulating and enriching. Interestingly, they felt they became more supportive and positive about disability and ageing because they realised that their own situation, as well as the situation lived by many other people, was not something to be ashamed of.

Researchers also mentioned they learned a new range of soft and technical skills which they will potentially reuse in their lives: identifying positive and negative stories; how to approach and speak to people; how to use a voice recorder, etc. Overall, researchers felt more empowered to speak up and get involved in their respective communities, to share not only the results of the study but also the experience they gained, and to make a difference in terms of rights.

What the community peer researchers found difficult

Researchers sometimes faced challenges gathering stories due to communication and social barriers. For instance, they often could not obtain stories directly from people with learning difficulties or mental health issues. Relatives often felt it was their duty to answer on behalf of those with disabilities, while the researchers would have liked to talk to them directly. Similarly, interacting with people with hearing impairment proved to be tricky because these participants did not always use a recognised sign language where an interpreter could have facilitated the exchange. The researchers relied on relatives. Older people had a tendency to not want to talk about their own difficulties but were rather focusing on the challenges of their community. They did not seem to realise they had needs and rights too. Finally, understanding the research study represented another challenge for the participants: some wondered why they were asked to share their personal stories and did not see the point of the research.

More information

I hope this blog has given you a snapshot of the Voices of the Marginalised research and that you are now keen to know more. To find out additional information, you can:

Attend or watch online ODI’s event “How should inequality feature in a post-2015 agreement?” on Thursday 18 April at which I will be giving a short presentation on this research.

  • Read HelpAge International’s latest blog about the study.
  • Keep an eye out for the final research report that will be available on our website in May.
  • Follow Participate, as we are a member of this initiative led by IDS and Beyond 2015.
  • Stay tuned for more news on the Voices of the Marginalised research!

By Marion Steff, Sightsavers’ Policy Advisor on Social Inclusion

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