The social welfare system was built to protect the vulnerable through the provision of basic needs. I left my social service job to join an organization with a mission to shift that system from safety nets to trampolines – from services designed to maximize safety, to those that develop agency and resilience. That’s meant interrogating and renewing my principles for ethical engagement with people who are getting the poorest outcomes from services. Returning people’s data to them, in the form of a story is now a practice at the heart of my relationships to the people with whom I do research. At the best of times this interaction is an intervention in and of itself, validating someone’s experience and allowing them to open themselves up to new self-narratives. But the goal of story return in not a positive reception; rather, it’s about following through on our ethical commitment to recognize people’s ownership over their own data, and allowing them the opportunity to benefit from it. Ultimately, the story is never evidence for once policy direction or another, but, through the way in which it’s gathered, it becomes evidence for how human connection is the foundation for our growth.
Natalie Napier is Lead Coach at InWithForward and divides her time between rooming houses, seniors’ residences, shelters, newcomer communities, and working with the organizations that serve them, to build capacity for community-based social R&D. She is currently living in Montreal, Canada. email@example.com.