3. Create and maintain your research network & relationships

Step 3: Partners are crucial: Create and maintain your research network & relationships
Image: studio KO

The 11 principles & 7 questions for transboundary and intercultural research in partnership indicate how to build and maintain supportive and fair partnerships. This step thus focuses specifically on the choice of research partners within a conflict-affected context. Negotiating the research cooperation can lead to tensions – these can be uncomfortable, but they have the potential to create a better mutual understanding, clarify assumptions and expectations, and build trust.

Questions

  • With whom do you maintain what kind of relations in complex networks of power and authority? How do these networks relate to (potential) conflict issues?
  • How are funding and other resources linked with the power structure of a research relationship?
  • Who holds the intellectual property for written outcomes, and for data collected? How are these actors linked with (potential) conflict issues and the political, economic and social development of a conflict-affected context?

Recommendations

  • Clarify roles and responsibilities to establish a mutually beneficial partnership and specify it in writing.
  • Allow extra time to build partnerships and other relationships in conflict-affected areas. People will most likely need time to build trust with a researcher.
  • View partnerships in a sense of accompaniment, critical friendship, built on trust and a long-term commitment; try to reduce ‘administrative bulk’ wherever possible (Saferworld 2019 'Localisation').
  • Recognise what different interests the entities and individuals you work with have towards research outcomes (donor-driven NGOs, state loyal universities, international think tanks) and take proactive steps to mitigate conflicts (Roll and Swenson 2019 'Fieldwork').
  • Keep conflict parties or actors in power from instrumentalizing your research, e.g. by diversifying your network and transparent communication.
  • Become a RFI Reporting Organisation - the Research Fairness Initiative (RFI) promotes continuous quality improvement in research collaborations - making many of the issues that can cause disputes and conflicts transparent and solvable before conflict starts.

“The worry is sometimes that the partner wants to control everything, in a patriarchal manner. However, I would prefer a real partnership, not a top-down logic.”

“Research partnerships are crucial. In the contexts we work in, we have long-standing partnerships, incl. a local office, good ties with ministries. However, we are working with very hierarchical systems that pose challenges to us and our research partners. University employees need to be member of the single political party, which requires increased caution on what could be critical or sensitive.”