5. Define an appropriate research methodology
Research methodology – or how you conduct research – can lead to positive or negative impacts. The choice of methodology may be informed by the research questions, but it is equally necessary to consider the sensitivity of the context. Depending on questions of security, trust or cultural aspects of a context, focus group discussions, one-on-one interviews, ethnographic or semi-structured interviews, or surveys may be more or less suitable. In difficult to reach areas, access may be possible through partnering with NGOs, development or military institutions. However, such relations and dependencies entail trade-offs. In whatever way data collection takes place, the fragility of a context will impact data quality (and quantity).
- Is field research necessary? In (post-)conflict contexts you may share resources with humanitarian and development actors. In case of worsening of a conflict – could you rely on alternative research data from other researchers, NGOs or state authorities, for instance?
- What is the appropriate length of field research: is a quick ‘in & out’ justifiable (because of security reasons or because you have been there before)?
- In what context and with whom can you speak about sensitive issues? How might this fuel tension or revive traumata? Research participants may want to remain anonymous if the research topic touches upon conflict issues or taboo topics (e.g. political and religious sensitivities or sexual violence).
- Are concessions required? What aspects of your research could you adapt without jeopardizing it?
- Who takes responsibility for concessions or trade-offs?
- What are the expectations of research participants of what they ‘get’ from you (gifts, benefit from research results, etc.)?
- Discuss with donors and research partners the limitations for research due to security or political reasons. Anticipate what trade-offs might be demanded of you.
- In case of sensitive research themes, plan for appropriate support for your interviewees. E.g. plan for psychological support in contexts/ topics of trauma, public health etc. Ensure that you manage expectations of what impact your research may or may not have.
- Allow for a flexible schedule and budget for the research activities.
“The difficulty of accessing respondents made attaining a robust sample size difficult, reducing the utility and representativeness of the sample. This raises the basic question of in what circumstances are such quantitative methods simply inappropriate, at least in the absence of considerable institutional support. Problems with access in post-conflict environments create significant roadblocks, literal and figurative, to robust survey research.”
Roll and Swenson (2019), p. 248.