New ‘citizen researcher’ training for volunteers with People Know How

We’re pleased to be partnering with charity People Know How on a new research project looking at their digital inclusion work – a research project their volunteers will be trained to conduct themselves.

The Binks Hub have partnered with People Know How to secure funding for a project on digital inclusion and exclusion. While existing research tells us that digital exclusion contributes to higher costs of living, increased likelihood of poverty, social isolation, and reduced opportunities for employment, education and training, how the process of moving from digital exclusion to inclusion works in practice is far less clear.

People Know How run a service called Reconnect, which supports adults and families to help them improve their wellbeing by increasing digital and social inclusion. As part of this service, they complete baseline and impact questionnaires to find out exactly what people need and want from the service. These questionnaires are then compared with existing literature and shared with other organisations to ensure that different services in Edinburgh complement rather than compete with each other.

A pen, papers, and notebook from People Know How's Reconnect service are contained within a transparent folder

But while baseline and impact questionnaires are great for providing the broad brush strokes of why someone might engage with a service, an interview offers more depth. So we at the Binks Hub are providing training and support for a group of People Know How’s volunteers to be able to conduct research interviews and focus groups themselves.

Research into digital inclusion

The four areas People Know How aim to research are:

  1. How people come to People Know How’s Reconnect service and the needs they bring
  2. How the service has helped them (including skills, knowledge, confidence and emotional support)
  3. The difference digital inclusion can make to solving financial challenges and saving money
  4. What more the service could be offering to make a bigger impact on digital exclusion
A group of people sit around a conference table with the trainer speaking from the far end

To help answer these questions, volunteers at People Know How participated in training workshops with the Binks Hub and Reconnect teams in how to approach conducting interviews and running focus groups. They will then collaborate with the charity’s Digital & Wellbeing Coordinators to think about which approach would work best and who might be interested in participating, including people who receive support, staff and People Know How’s VIPs (volunteers, interns and placement students).

What is required to conduct 'good' research?

In our first training session, we spent some time thinking about what good research looks like – in other words, what are the things we need to think about for a project to work?

As a group, we settled on the following important considerations:

  • Reliability. Being consistent in the questions we ask and how we ask them makes it possible to compare data.
  • Communication skills. Having an open body posture, making eye contact, trying not to fill pauses, and asking open questions can all help make the person you’re interviewing more comfortable. In this case, as a team research project, communicating with the other researchers on the project will also make for good research.
  • Using everyday language. Asking straightforward questions and using language people are already familiar with can make an interview feel less like an interrogation!
  • Ethics and informed consent. It’s important that anyone we work can agree to it from an informed position – in other words, ensure that people understand what we’re asking them to do and why.
  • Avoiding bias. You don’t want to lead people towards your own feelings (through biased questions, for example), but for them to answer honestly.
  • Consider your physical environment. The key question to ask is whether you’re conducting an interview in a space someone’s going to be comfortable in.
The trainer stands besides a flipchart with notes about 'good research'

The lovely group of volunteers who attended the training sessions already had some research experience from varied backgrounds in marketing, business development, and previous study – and they did a brilliant job of thinking with us about what ‘good research’ looks like in preparation for conducting their interviews!

We’re looking forward to learning more from them and getting their reflections and feedback on both this project, and what future Binks Hub citizen researcher training might look like.

Next steps for the digital inclusion project

Our ‘citizen researchers’ will be completing interviews throughout April, with support from the wider People Know How team and the Binks Hub.

The Binks Hub team will then train the People Know How team in how to do some initial thematic analysis of interview transcripts – and for the volunteers who are available or want to, we will run another short workshop sharing what we’ve found to get their feedback and thoughts before we write this up.

Watch this space for updates on this research project – and thank you to both People Know How and the volunteers who participated in our training sessions.


The Binks Hub will work with communities to co-produce a programme of research and knowledge exchange that promotes social justice, relational research methods and human flourishing.

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