Taking a trauma-informed approach to research and evaluation

Aricle Image for Taking a trauma-informed approach to research and evaluation

March 2018

By Maria Koleth

Last week, all of ARTD’s staff attended a challenging and informative training day on Trauma-informed Care and Practice with the Blue Knot Foundation.  As a company that takes a strengths-based approach to research and evaluation with vulnerable populations, ensuring that our methods and instruments are trauma-informed is a key part of our process. The Blue Knot training renewed and updated our understanding of types of trauma, its long-term embodied effects, and the five principles of trauma-informed practice. Some key ways we are putting these principles into practice in our research include:

  • Prioritising safety: With a clear understanding that there is a widespread incidence of people impacted by trauma throughout the community, prioritising safety is an important part of our standard practice. Our interviewers and focus group facilitators establish clear boundaries around their role and the focus of discussions.  We also establish clear response protocols in case a participant becomes distressed, including referrals to other services if they need more support. The training also reminded us to continue to support our own staff who are vicariously exposed to stories of trauma and to ensure regular opportunities for them to debrief.   
  • Being trustworthy: We set clear expectations when getting consent from participants and then we ensure that we follow through on what we said we would do. Embodying trustworthiness also involves getting to appointments on time and staying within the boundaries of the research. This is important to establishing trust and a space in which people feel comfortable to share their story.
  • Offering choice: Maximising the control that evaluation and research participants have and being flexible in accommodating their needs is important for trauma-informed practice. We work to offer participants as many choices as possible, from where interviews take place to whether they would like a support person to attend with them to which questions they choose to answer.
  • Taking a collaborative approach: Increasingly, we have been using collaborative approaches. These help to address the unequal relationships between researchers and participants by making research projects a collaborative space.
  • Empowering participants: The theme of empowerment runs through many of our projects and the projects we evaluate. We recognise that people who have experienced trauma have often had their experiences minimised or invalidated in the past, so it’s important that we express trust in their responses in interviews and focus groups, recognise their resilience, and emphasise the importance of their contributions to projects.

We would also like to thank 107 Projects for hosting us –  their wonderful garden and sense of hospitality provided the most recuperative setting for our training day (see 107.org.au).