Hannah Marshall worked alongside the busy frontline service team at the crisis support group Hestia, meeting some disadvantaged and vulnerable people and gaining a better understanding and approach to research interviewing.
“I had previously volunteered as a mentor in Hestia’s ‘Phoenix Project’, which provides outreach support for survivors of human trafficking. In this role I had seen evidence of Hestia’s impressive dedication to its clients, and ethos of empowering clients to live independently. Accordingly, when I learned through the volunteer network that Hestia was looking for a researcher to support a survey of experiences of forced criminality among its clients, I decided to apply to carry out this work as part of the ESRC fellowship programme. I was keen to do an fellowship in order to gain experience of what a research career in the policy sector or third sector might look like, as this is a career that I may be interested in pursuing having completed my PhD. I also saw the fellowship as an opportunity to expand my knowledge of the human trafficking NGO sector, as this is tangentially related to my PhD research.
The fellowship project brief was to research the profile of forced criminality in England drawing on the experiences of victims of modern slavery supported by Hestia. The research was aimed at looking at the vulnerability characteristics of individuals exploited for forced criminality, the types of criminal activities in which victims are being exploited, victims becoming involved in recruitment and exploitation of other victims, as well as the effectiveness of the Section 45 defence of the Modern Slavery Act.
The key components of the fellowship were:
• Design the research methodology working closely with the Head of Innovations and Partnerships
• Conduct interviews with victims of forced criminality
• Conduct interviews with key stakeholders, including with the police, Home Office and third sector professionals.
• Analyse key findings
The fellowship met my aims and I worked closely with the management team at Hestia to develop the research methodology. In particular, we worked collaboratively to risk assess the project, and to design a methodology that would ensure that the research experience was a positive one for clients with a history of trauma. On my part, this involved learning about the statutory obligations and safeguarding priorities of Hestia as an organisation and thinking about how these factors shape the research methodology. A substantial part of the project involved working to gain the trust of “gatekeepers” who would facilitate access to research participants – both professionals and service users. This involved going into team meetings to talk about the research, developing the research methods based on stakeholder feedback, and remaining persistent in chasing potential participants to schedule interviews. At the time of writing I have conducted 5 in-depth interviews with victims of forced criminality, and 15 interviews with key stakeholders. I have two weeks left at Hestia and plan to carry out 1 more service user interview and 2 more professional stakeholder interviews during this time. To supplement the interviews, I also analysed Hestia’s internal data on the prevalence and vulnerability characteristics associated with forced criminality among its 1000 clients. In the final two weeks of my fellowship , I will be working with the head of partnerships to undertake a preliminary analysis of the project’s findings. The final write-up of the results will then be carried out by the head of partnerships in collaboration with the communications team and will be completed and published in early 2020.
As Hestia is a busy frontline service, where most staff have very little free time to assist with research, I had the opportunity to develop my skills at engaging busy colleagues with my project. I was able to learn what was important to staff in order to motivate and engage them, and also explored the strategies that are most effective in recruiting research participants. I think that this will be invaluable as I return to start my PhD fieldwork.
I also had the opportunity to attend some sector-wide policy events such as meetings of the London Modern Slavery Working Group and the Modern Slavery Police Transformation Unit 2019 conference Attending these events gave me vital knowledge of the workings of the sector and enabled me to expand my professional network.
Finally, separately to my main project, I also participated in helping to organise and facilitate a photography course for Hestia clients around the theme ‘Art is Freedom’. This opportunity to facilitate a creative activity is not something that I would have encountered in my PhD, but it exposed me to the benefits of creative methods in providing people who have experienced trauma with a means of creative expression.
This question has some overlap with my answer to the previous question. I have definitely gained confidence in doing research with “vulnerable” participants, as many of the service users that I worked with during the interviews had experienced multiple and complex disadvantages such as: having experienced significant trauma, undocumented immigration status and homelessness. I learned a lot from the protocols and practices that Hestia uses in its advocacy work, which helped me to develop a more trauma-informed approach to research interviewing. I also gained experience of carrying out interviews with an interpreter, and the challenges associated with this approach.
As stated above, I developed my teamwork skills by learning how to persuade and engage other team members to participate in a project that may not otherwise be a priority for them. I’m also more aware of some of the constraints that exist on researchers working in policy. For example: the ways in which funding bodies may exert influence over what research is published, and when this research is published, and the need to manage relationships with funders with sensitivity.
The fellowship has been very helpful in enabling me to reflect on and clarify the focus of my PhD research. When I started the fellowship, I was planning to work with foreign nationals who had experienced labour exploitation or criminal exploitation as part of my PhD research. However, the diversity of experiences among the people of different nationalities, who had experienced different sub-types of labour exploitation, that I encountered through working at Hestia, has convinced me that my PhD research focus needs to be a lot narrower. I also started the fellowship thinking that I would work with people with English as an Additional Language as participants in my PhD research, using an interpreter where necessary. The experience of doing interviews with an interpreter at Hestia has steered me away from this approach, as the kind of fine-grain analysis of word choice etc. required in PhD data analysis may not be possible with the language barrier. As a result, I have narrowed the focus of my research to working with UK nationals who have been exploited in the distribution of class A drugs. In terms of my future career, it was really exciting to meet a range of passionate and dedicated professionals working in the sector who were really committed to quality research. Meeting these individuals highlighted the possibility of a meaningful research career in the policy/NGO sector in the future.
I think that I benefited from already knowing the team at Hestia, and knowing a bit about the organisation, so I’m not sure that I would automatically recommend another student going to Hestia for an fellowship. However, I do think that many PhD students would benefit from undertaking an fellowship . It gives you time to step back from, and reflect upon, the direction of your PhD research – I think it can be really useful to have that breathing space. It gives you the opportunity to explore how you might apply your research skills outside of academia, and then also provides you with useful connections if that’s a path that you end up choosing. I would say that if you can find an fellowship that’s a good fit – then go for it! I would also say be bold in approaching organisations that you’d like to work with and asking them if they’d consider setting something up. The ESRC team were really accommodating in enabling me to do an fellowship with Hestia, even though Hestia wasn’t already one of the ESRC’s pre-existing partners.”
Hannah Marshall’s fellowship with Hestia took place between July and October 2019