Thursday, 16 June 2011

Paper - Beyond recruitment? Participatory online research with people who use drugs

Barratt, M. J., & Lenton, S. (2010). Beyond recruitment? Participatory online research with people who use drugs. International Journal of Internet Research Ethics, 3(1). Retrieved from

Paper talking about the recruitment and ongoing relationship with participants from online forums. Sensitive in this case because talking about drug use in forums that were not ostensibly about drug use (mostly about music), and due to the potentially illegal nature of the discussion.

They make the point that the potentially problematic aspects of the online environment (such as the anonymous nature of feedback, or the potential for the participant to just disappear without completing) could actually help where the subject was as sensitive as this. On-going discussion with the participant groups could help to shape the research in unexpected ways. Of course, this could still be a problem - the researcher doesn't have as much control over where the research/discussion goes.

Privacy is becoming a major theme here. In this case they decide to not even name the participating online groups. In fact, the majority didn't want to be named, but one group actively would have preferred it. Highlights how important it is to get to know the groups you want to work with. They also highlight that the perception of the group of how private their area is may not match the researcher's opinion.

Anonymising the data but quoting directly may not be good enough if the forum is indexed. A search will just trace it back to the group and the poster.

Interesting to note that most of the papers they reviewed skipped over the job of recruiting the participants in their methodology sections. I have a feeling it is quite often discussed in online world research, so that's an interesting distinction! Maybe it's to justify all the hours playing a game!

They highlight the potential problems with publicising findings before the research is published. In this case, they were aware that journalists were using the forums for stories and didn't want their research to wind up causing negative press for the groups. They ended up sharing their findings on separate, private sites, that reduced the follow up discussion from the communities. Not all projects suffer from that, but it's an interesting additional point about the problems of getting your work back out to the people who are interested.

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