Power in research relationships: engaging mothers with learning difficulties in a parenting programme evaluation

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There are significant ethical considerations when engaging with the participants of a service evaluation study. These include the potential impact of the findings of the evaluation on the lives of those in receipt of the service. The importance of researcher reflexivity in these circumstances is vital. This paper describes one researcher’s reflections about their own engagement with participants of an evaluation of a parenting course.
The potential contributors to the evaluation of the course that are the focus of this paper were 18 mothers with learning difficulties. All had been referred to the course because of concerns about their parenting capacity or the welfare of their child.
The power dynamics in the interactions between the researcher and the participants existed on a number of levels. The starting point was an asymmetrical power relation with the researcher defining the scope, content and conduct of the evaluation. Efforts to engage with the participants included trying to remodel some of this power and minimise the distance and separateness between each party. The parents too had some power, by using the interviews as a therapeutic space, providing socially desirable accounts, or ultimately jeopardising the evaluation of the programme by refusing to participate. In this unique context, the power relationships were dynamic and inter-linked, feeling like a dance between active agents within the negotiations. Elements of Tew’s (2006) conceptual framework of ‘productive’ and ‘limiting’ modes of power were both in evidence and likely to have influenced the findings of the evaluation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-17
Number of pages17
JournalQualitative Social Work
Publication statusPublished - 5 Aug 2019

Structured keywords

  • SPS Norah Fry Centre for Disability Studies


  • Research engagement
  • power
  • research reflexivity
  • Parents with learning difficulties

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