SPIRIT on tour in Norway


– Andrew Power

On November 1st, Melanie and I travelled to Molde University College, Norway, a beautiful campus looking out over the fjord and snow-peaked mountains. We were invited to help plan and launch a new Nordic Inclusive Research Network.

May Ostby, who works at Molde first made contact with us in the early days of SPIRIT. She, and Norwegian colleague, Anita Gjermestad (pictured above), had seen Melanie speak at a Nordic Network of Disability Research conference. When she heard of SPIRIT, she was keen to reach out and learn from the work we were doing – and to find out more about inclusive research in the UK.

May, Anita, other colleagues and a group of self-advocates with learning disabilities who had done fantastic research on self-determination attended our launch seminar in June. May and Anita were keen to establish a network for academics across Norway who wanted to do research more inclusively with people with learning disabilities. Melanie and I helped shape the funding proposal that was submitted to the Norwegian research council, in order to build a resource base to facilitate more opportunities for members to collaborate.

The aim of our trip to Norway was two-fold. Firstly, we were invited to explore possibilities for further collaboration between SPIRIT and the network and to shape the objectives and suggested activities of the network. Secondly, we were asked to share the lessons of doing research inclusively in the UK and the opportunities that SPIRIT opened up at their launch seminar. Over 30 people attended this event, including academics from universities across Norway.

Melanie spoke about the lessons she had learned from her ESRC-funded research on what quality means in inclusive research. She argued that inclusive research is difficult, but it was important to ‘feel your way’. She made an important distinction between using the term ‘inclusive research’ which can imply a particular gold-standard model, and ‘doing research inclusively’, which allows for multiple ways of doing research together with people with learning disabilities. The latter involves an open mind about trying new things.

I spoke of the lessons from two research projects which had in different ways involved people with learning disabilities participating in research design, data collection, analysis and dissemination. Through these examples, I discussed the issues associated with different priorities, timescales, politics, and pressures that academics have to contend with compared to people with learning disabilities. In many cases, people with learning disabilities have very different pressures, sometimes quite immediate, and their timescales for wanting change are very short.

Having a platform like SPIRIT has enabled Melanie and I to have a space to talk about these four different pressures with the self-advocates and disabled peoples’ organisations – and to find ways to overcome some of the differences in them.

One overarching challenge we both spoke about was the power differences that remained despite doing research more inclusively. With differential access to power, barriers continued to persist including unequal access to resources and unequal opportunities to contribute in different stages of research. Melanie and I discussed the work we had undertaken in designing a timebank to help break down these barriers. This generated a lot of interest by the Norwegian academics, who felt that they could use a timebank system to share their time and to involve more people with learning disabilities. They were excited about the idea that an online timebank could reach out to an international audience, and involve sharing of time with people in different countries.

Overall the SPIRIT tour was a successful visit, with new avenues for collaboration opened up, more opportunities to share in knowledge and experiences, and a renewed appreciation for doing research inclusively.