Supporting the ethical engagement of victim survivors in co-production of research


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The University of Melbourne Safer Families Centre has released a new framework to guide researchers in the ethical engagement of victim-survivors of domestic, family and sexual violence in co-produced research and evaluations.

Co-funded by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the University of Melbourne, the new framework will form the basis for consultation with victim survivor groups in Australia, and may also be used in other countries to develop location-specific standards.

The new framework was developed using co-design approaches by researchers Katie Lamb and  Kelsey Hegarty in partnership with victim survivor co-researchers from the WEAVERs co-design team Lula Dembele, Fiona and Nina.

“There is currently considerable interest in engaging people with lived experience in family, domestic and sexual violence in the development of services, policies and research. However, there are no agreed standards, definitions or conceptual understandings to support researchers in doing this work in an ethical way,” says  Katie Lamb, Research Fellow with the Safer Families Centre of Research Excellence.

The framework draws on the experience of the WEAVERS, a group of women with lived experience established in 2016 to show that engaging victim-survivors as co-researchers can be empowering and promote autonomy.

Co-researcher Fiona says: “Triggering should not be used to exclude survivors from participation. Survivors are pretty good at knowing what they can and can’t do and we have all sorts of strategies and tools to help us."

Fellow co-author and victim-survivor advocate Lula Dembele says: “Working ethically with victim-survivors of domestic, family, and sexual violence is critical to making research outcomes applicable in the real world."

“To do the work well and ensure that the research process empowers people with lived experience, research institutions and researchers need to be willing and ready to share power, knowledge, and the benefits of producing research.”

According to Ms Dembele, research that seeks to prevent and reduce domestic, family and sexual violence should uplift and build the confidence of victim-survivor co-researchers.

“Research organisations need to be careful that their processes don't repeat or mirror behaviours of silencing and reducing victim-survivors' agency, as experienced in abusive relationships.

“If done ethically and supportively, opportunities to apply lived experience in research participation can be a powerful tool of healing and rebuilding lives for victim-survivors,” Ms Dembele says.

The Australian Framework for the Ethical Co-Production of Research with Victim-Survivors is available here.

Key messages from the framework include:

  • High-quality co-design research teams are made up of people with a broad range of expertise whether it is professional or expertise by experience, and all perspectives are valued.
  • Researchers need to be clear about where their project sits on the continuum of co-design and be highly transparent about the degree of influence victim-survivor co-researchers will have on the research process and outcomes.
  • The co-design research process should be developed with an understanding of trauma and with a shifted focus on how the process can add to healing rather than solely focusing on the prevention of distress.
  • For victim-survivors to be equal partners and receive equitable benefits from co-design research and evaluations, research teams and funders must adequately invest in training, support and career pathways for victim-survivor co-researchers.
  • It is vital that research funders ensure adequate resourcing and timelines to support genuine co-production, including research ideation with victim-survivors, and sustained relationships rather than short-term engagements.

First published on 14 September 2023.

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