The Role of Gatekeepers in Research: Learning from Reflexivity and Reflection

Jackie McFadyen, Jean Rankin


Research is now an integral part of everyday health, education and social science practice. These professions need to be responsive to meet the changing needs in light of evidence based research findings. Within this process, gatekeepers have a key role to ensure researchers gain access to potential participants and sites for research. Positive influences of the gatekeepers can be invaluable to the research process by facilitating the smooth running of research activity to completion. At times, gatekeeping can be problematic with researchers having limited or no access to sites. In this present study to recruit vulnerable adolescents, a number of gatekeepers denied, limited or delayed access to potential participants and sites despite ethical, professional and organizational approval. In response, the researchers incorporated learning tools to address challenges brought about by gatekeepers in this study and for improvements in future studies. Reflexivity was used during the study to critically review all aspects of the research process and retrospective reflection identified areas that worked well and those areas for improvement in future studies. In broad terms, a number of factors were found to influence the action of gatekeepers. This related to level of understanding about the research, communication issues, motivation issues and fear or anxiety about the outcome. One recurring issue seemed to relate to the sensitive nature of the study and the deeply held attitudes and values of the individual gatekeepers. Researchers need to engage and involve the gatekeeper/s early in the research process. Other positive influences include sharing of clear information with the purpose of the research, the gatekeeper being motivated with a positive attitude to research which is also supported within the gatekeeper’s environment. When these positive influences are not present then this can have a negative influence on research activity.


engaging adolescents; young people; gatekeepers; reflexivity; reflection; access to participants; accessing research sites; moral panic; research challenges.

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