Business and Management INK

Putting People at the Heart of the Research Process

March 20, 2024 392

In this article, Jessica Weaver, Philippa Hunter-Jones, and Rory Donnelly reflect on “Unlocking the Full Potential of Transformative Service Research by Embedding Collaboration Throughout the Research Process,” which can be found in the Journal of Service Research. The abstract for their publication can be found below.

This article presents a review of published articles on Transformative Service Research (TSR), incorporating insights from user-led research to further understand how collaboration within the TSR process can improve wellbeing. Our analysis of 111 articles reveals mixed approaches to the way user collaboration has been documented, with only a small number of articles reporting extensive collaboration across every stage of the TSR process. We posit that this has led to missed opportunities for more effective TSR and make two significant contributions to the development of subsequent TSR. First, by highlighting inconsistencies in the TSR research process, we elucidate the need for the reflexive application of TSR knowledge and open dialogue on embedding collaboration within the research process itself. Second, we propose five avenues for progress to enhance the potential for future TSR to uplift service provision for service users and stakeholders.

With a background as a mental health social worker, our lead author came to this project having witnessed a lot of power asymmetry between practitioners and service users. Inspired by research processes built around peer-led service design/delivery, she welcomed her co-authors introductions to Transformative Service Research (TSR), seeing this as a vehicle for shifting the balance of power. However, as the team delved into the associated TSR literature, it became increasingly clear that user involvement was not necessarily at the heart of the research published to-date. Familiar with practices employed in service user-led literature (survivor research, Mad studies), the lead author set about utilizing this knowledge as a means of complimenting and further analyzing the TSR literature.

The pandemic struck and collecting empirical data became constrained. This proved a useful opportunity though as the team shifted to undertake a systematic literature review of the TSR literature with a particular emphasis upon better understanding the role those contributing to the research had played. Investigations centered around determining at what stage participants were involved in the study with a four-stage framework utilized to achieve this. This framework explored whether participants were involved in 1) co-ideation 2) co-design 3) co-implementation 4) co-evaluation. Surprisingly, this review revealed a lack of collaboration with service users when it came to the TSR field with only 10 papers reviewed reporting extensive collaboration and a further 10 partial collaboration. Building upon the service-user led literature, our findings encourage a reflexive use of existing TSR knowledge around collaboration in services, particularly in relation to the research process. Our ideas and ways forward coalesce around five avenues for progress that contribute to different stages of the research process.

Not all of our data and findings made it into the published manuscript. Given our research suggested the existence of multiple research communities and silos, we would have liked to explore how the different disciplines work. We found the TSR and service-user led research communities to be different, yet interested in similar areas. We would like to have explored how the different language and vocabulary each community uses can be a barrier to shared understandings (i.e. language like “vulnerable”, well-being, survivor, Mad, consumers versus service users).

We would have liked to unpack these further to understand better how the underlying power implications of these words may cause barriers with a view to considering ways to translate these across the disciplines. We came to appreciate just how much of a role power plays in the research process and would encourage new scholars and incoming researchers to consider ways to disrupt power imbalances to allow service users (particularly those disenfranchised by services) to be embedded more fully from the outset in setting agendas in TSR.

Philippa Hunter-Jones (pictured) is a professor of marketing and currently serves as the subject group head of marketing at the University of Liverpool Management School (ULMS). She has a passion for research which explores the service needs and experiences of 'vulnerable consumers'. Jessica Weaver attended the University of Liverpool and received her PhD in service research. Rory Donnelly is a professor of human resource management and organizational behavior at the University of Liverpool. She has research interests in knowledge work, human resource management, changing work and career dynamics, diversity and inclusion, the employment relationship, and comparative employment systems.

View all posts by Philippa Hunter-Jones, Jessica Weaver, and Rory Donnelly

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