On 23rd April, Sarah from the SILK team attended ‘Uncovering the Lives we Lead’ workshop session in Suffolk, run by the Leadership Centre for Local Government. People from various roles across Suffolk attended, including the County Council, district councils and also other partners e.g. Suffolk Police. It was a really great opportunity to share SILK’s experiences with others to enable them to apply the same principles to their work.
The day was facilitated by ESRO, Ethnographic Social Research Options, a qualitative research agency, who have previously partnered with SILK on the ‘Just Coping’project. It was a really useful day to meet with other people also interested in how to integrate social innovation into local government.
Here is Sarah’s blog of the day:
As the newest member of the SILK team I approached the day slightly apprehensive and unsure what to expect, but I was looking forward to putting all the techniques I have learnt about into practise. The inital nerves were totally unfounded! I found the practical workshops invaluable and found that they challenged not only current perceptions of qualitative research but also how each technique should be used.
The honest and frank discussions that followed each workshop were really useful to put each technique into perspective and enabled everyone to gain an understanding of how essential a mix of both qualitative and quantitative methods are in order to gain a true insight into how people live.
Everyone was also really interested in finding out more about SILK and the work we do. This reminded me how lucky we are to have had the opportunity in Kent work in this way, as many other authorities are now striving to work along the same principles.
In the evening, a small group of us undertook some ethnographic research on the streets of Ipswich, with the task of finding out how the current economic climate was affecting the night time economy. I was both excited and apprehensive, (ok, petrified!) about carrying out this exercise. The idea of going into shops and take-away restaurants unannounced and asking people about their businesses sounded really intrusive. However, the opportunity to spend time with professional ethnographers and to observe and learn the best way to approach people was fascinating. My expectation was that the owners would be unwelcoming and defensive when in reality the opposite was true.
First we visited a Polish delicatessen, where the owner seemed more than happy to answer our questions. He actively engaged with us in conversation and even offered us contact details for some of his friends we could contact if we had any more questions. The information we gained from this was really fascinating. He explained, as we had expected, that business has slowed down. Although his customers are not solely from the Polish community, the recent increase in Polish people returning home has affected trade and he is concerned about this for his business.
Rising unemployment is also seen as key for the reduction in trade with many daily enquires for any available work. These requests are not limited to the Polish community and many of those asking are redundant English workers. He seemed worried about the situation, but aware that it was out of his control and was trying to help others wherever he could. For example, he has lent money to other Polish people in the community and accepts the fact that he may never get this back. He has not considered asking the council for help and seemed surprised that we had asked! Although he is concerned about the future he seemed determined to try to make the best of things and is opening a new business in the next few weeks with a group of friends from the Polish community and is hopeful for the future.
Having had a successful first visit I was looking forward to our next insight. We decided next to visit an Indian restaurant, and again received a really positive reception. We were again told that business is slow, but in comparison this business had a more proactive approach. The co-owner has contacted local businesses and arranged a 10% discount for staff and also introduced a fixed price meal deal. The worrying thing for me, however, was that they have been forced to cut staff wages, have reduced the number of kitchen staff from 5 to 3 and the wife of the co-owner is having to work unpaid at the weekends after having already worked a full week as a teacher. What will the knock-on effect of some of these factors be?
It sounds obvious really but I don’t think I have ever really sat back before and truly considered the ripple effect of how one thing can have such a wide effect on so many other things. Both proprietors mentioned sending money back to their home countries – so if there’s less money to send back, then how does this affect the economy in those other countries? What is then the wider ripple effect from that?
It is amazing how much information you can find out from something as simple as just asking! If more people were to just have a conversation with someone they don’t yet know then we would all be that bit closer to understanding each other a bit better! In the context of local government, this has reinforced for me the importance of SILK’s person centred approach and how by using qualitative methods such as ethnography you can gain a deeper insight into people’s lives. This insight is essential before making decisions that affect people’s lives.
Overall, I found the day really valuable to me in my new role with the SILK team and it also helped open my eyes a bit more to other people’s lives!
For more information please contact the SILK team