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Call for research: distributed technology for survivors

Call for responsive research proposals on evaluating the provision of distributed technology to adults with lived experience of modern slavery.

Published: 30th September 2021

The Modern Slavery and Human Rights Policy and Evidence Centre (the Modern Slavery PEC) has issued a targeted call for proposals for a research project evaluating the provision of distributed technology to adults with lived experience of modern slavery.

Improving survivor recovery and support and understanding longer-term outcomes are priority research areas for the Modern Slavery PEC. Improving evidence on this issue is a priority for multiple stakeholder groups working to address modern slavery. Through an Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) open call process, the Modern Slavery PEC has recently funded five research projects on this area which are all exploring longer term outcomes for people with lived experience of modern slavery.

The PEC is seeking to complement these existing projects through calls for additional research to fill other priority evidence gaps on the theme of survivor recovery. This call relates to research exploring how support services have adapted due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the related impact on people’s well-being and recovery and on safeguarding. The other two calls focus on improving the identification of survivors and survivors’ experiences of access to legal advice.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, organisations supporting people with lived experience of modern slavery were forced to move to providing support remotely, including by phone and online. Currently, provision of technology to individuals in receipt of NRM support is not part of the standard support package. NGOs have raised concerns about ‘digital exclusion’ among adult victims and survivors and some support providers have had concerns about the risk of digital access in certain instances. Some subcontracted support providers have received donated devices from the private sector for service users. During the Covid-19 pandemic, funding from the Home Office and Scottish Government was provided to enable subcontractors to adapt how they provided support, under the umbrella term of ‘distributed technology’, including phones, smartphones, computer hardware and software, and associated data packages to enable internet access.

There has been some initial research into digital devices for NRM service users: a TARA (support provider in Scotland) snapshot survey of service users, and research from Unseen and University of the West of England, have both examined how service users viewed donated smartphones and research assessed a pilot project offering music therapy to trafficked women in a safe house, including via video conferencing. Findings show that service users were positive about smartphones and accessing online support services, however existing research has largely focused on the impact of smartphones on wellbeing, with more limited focus on the potential safety risks posed and the longer-term opportunities and implications of distributed technology for how support services are delivered, especially as Covid-19 restrictions ease.

The outputs from this research project will contribute to the growing evidence base about the role of distributed technology on the delivery of services and on people’s safety and well-being. The Modern Slavery PEC will use the findings to influence ongoing policy and operational considerations about the role of distributed technology as part of the NRM support package and beyond.

About the call

This call is part of the Modern Slavery PEC Responsive Research mechanism that has been created to fund responsive and agile research projects. It is led directly by the PEC, but is funded and actively supported by the Arts and Humanities Council (AHRC).

The scope of the research is limited to adults with a positive reasonable grounds decision in receipt of NRM support in Scotland, England and Wales. The impact of technology provision for dependents and trafficked children are out of scope. The project is not expected to include analysis of the impact of the broader move to digital service support provision outside of the NRM e.g. remote GP appointments.

The objectives are to:

  • Assess the benefits and drawbacks of the provision of distributed technology on the experience of accessing and delivering online services delivered through the NRM
  • Assess the impact of the provision of distributed technology and related online safety training on well-being/recovery and on safeguarding whilst in the NRM and the longer-term impact of such provision or withdrawal
  • Explore patterns according to the type of technology; characteristics of individuals in support; and type of service received
  • Consider the situation across the different support provision in the UK (comparing Scotland to England and Wales)
  • Consider lessons learned about the role of distributed technology as part of support provided to survivors of other types of crime (such as domestic abuse) and to explore general principles of how distributed technology can be used to connect vulnerable groups and those at risk of mental health issues to wider social and cultural resources.

In accordance with the Modern Slavery PEC’s strategic objective of facilitating collaboration, successful teams will work in collaboration with the Modern Slavery PEC throughout the project to ensure alignment with our objectives and to maximise impact. This will include developing the research methodology and developing outputs such as the full report and summary briefing, as well as their dissemination.

The Modern Slavery PEC has allocated a maximum budget of £75,000 at 100% full economic cost (FEC) for this project. We expect to fund one project for this work. The project must be led by a UK higher education institution or approved research organisation eligible to receive UKRI funding, and it must be carried out in collaboration with at least one UK based third sector organisation.

You can find the full details and specification of the call in the application pack below.

Application process

The applications to this call must be made through our online form.

All applications will be reviewed by an assessment panel convened by the Modern Slavery PEC that will include external independent reviewers.

The deadline for applications is 4pm (UK time) 5 November 2021.

The decision on the award of the funding will be made by week beginning 6 December, with the project due to start by 17 January 2021 the latest, and final outputs to be delivered by 17 May 2021.

Call Webinar & FAQs

We will hold a webinar for prospective applicants to provide them with the opportunity to hear more about the Modern Slavery PEC and its strategic objectives and principles, offer an overview of the call, and give more information on how the successful bid team will collaborate with the Modern Slavery PEC during the research. The webinar will take place on 12 October 2021 at 1pm (UK time). This webinar will be run in conjunction with the calls on legal advice and identification of adults.