From rough sleeper to duo researcher

Nienke Boesveldt

Dr. Nienke Boesveldt, Faculty of Social Sciences, uses a special method for her research about homeless people: she involved them in gathering the data.

Since 2015, municipalities have been required to reduce living in facilities and to let people live independently as much as possible ("integration within the community"). At the same time, the budgets, tasks and responsibilities must be distributed among several local authorities ("regionalisation").

Nienke is the head researcher of a team that researches how clients in different regions value this development. This is done in a special way: former users help master's students and student assistants interview the clients of Community Support (Maatschappelijke Opvang) and Supported Housing (Beschermd Wonen) services.

Why did you choose this method of collecting data?

“These are experts by experience. They know what it is like to be dependent on Community Support or Supported Housing. This ensures trust and more understanding during the interview. During training sessions prior to the interviews, the former users of the services heard more about the research and learned different interview techniques. In return, they taught us during their training about their experiences with Community Support and Supported Housing. In addition, working with the students is great fun; they will be in this field in a few years."

Were there any issues that you encountered while collecting the data?

“I worked at a local authority, so I have experience with client participation and I knew what conditions we had to meet. But sometimes that was difficult. For example, I wanted refunds of travel expenses for the experts because they often have to make ends meet, but it turned out to be difficult to arrange this through the university. We have never had any problems with the former users of the services; we involve them in everything and invest in community building by organizing events.”

What advice do you have for a fellow researcher who wants to involve citizens in collecting data for scientific research?

“It helps enormously if you understand the field; then you will know what conditions must be met, what can and cannot be asked of the citizens - in this case the former users of the services -, and how you ensure that they feel fully involved. Invest in training and link researchers to citizens so that they can learn from each other. In addition: you are a citizen yourself, so what do you find pleasant or self-evident? Always keep that in mind.”

Do you want to know more about Nienke Boesveldt's research into the ambulantisation and regionalisation from Social Relief and Protected Living? Read an article about her research here.