Participatory Ethnographic Evaluation and Research (PEER) is an innovative approach to qualitative research and human-centred design. It was developed by Options experts, in collaboration with Swansea University. Members of a community (PEER researchers) are trained to carry out in-depth conversational interviews with friends in their social networks. By working with established relationships of trust between friends, PEER generates rich insights into how people view their world, and how they make decisions on key issues. PEER is highly effective in generating insights into sensitive issues among hard to reach groups, where stigma and marginalisation makes traditional research methods difficult to implement. The PEER process enables programmes to engage communities in discussions, and ensures that the views of marginalised and disadvantaged groups can be heard.
PEER is designed to be rapid, easy to replicate, and useful in a wide variety of different settings. Our PEER specialists build the capacity of their team to be able to use the method in the future. On-the-job training is essential to successfully build skills needed for this new and innovative approach to research.
Over the last ten years, in countries across Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, and in the UK, we have used this approach to help organisations to develop evidence-based communications, advocacy, and programmes that reflect the true needs and realities of the communities they work with. Key highlights of our most recent PEER work include:
- In the UK, PEER was used to evaluate the FGM Initiative to prevent FGM among affected communities. The results gained a high media profile, and demonstrated that there was widespread support among FGM affected communities for a more concerted interventionist stance from the UK government. This generated support for mainstreaming FGM prevention into child-protection procedures, and was instrumental in bringing the issue of FGM to wider attention.
- Formative PEER research has been used to understand the social context of decision-making and health seeking behaviour, particularly in relation to accessing contraception and safe abortion services. This included PEER projects in Bangladesh, India, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
- In Myanmar, Options trained CARE Myanmar to undertake PEER to provide insights on the lives and working conditions of female sex workers to inform the design of a programme to empower the country’s poorest women and girls. The research highlighted the complex ways in which female sex workers are controlled, exploited, and in turn, assert agency over their lives, relationships and work. The research generated robust evidence to inform the development of CARE Myanmar’s policy and advocacy strategy to support women and female sex workers' rights. This includes improving access to health and support services, addressing structural factors which marginalise women and female sex workers and strengthening restitution for abuse.
- In Nepal, we have developed a locally sustainable version of PEER to monitor and inform programme development. It enables health staff at village, district and national level to understand how women perceive changes in the wider social context in which pregnancy and childbirth are experienced and has been used to capture the views of rural communities as a tool for advocacy, social and policy change.