Ethics & Engagement across the Wellcome Trust Major Overseas Programmes
I know I'm long overdue to post a blog piece up here. Sorry about that! Despite my silence, we have actually been making progress (finally!) with the data collection on this project since July of this year, and are planning to wrap up this first project phase in January. With the help of two new research assistants, we've managed to do a series of observations, focus groups and in-depth interviews with community engagement officers, Centre field staff, and members of both the old and new Community Advisory Boards. With somewhat inexperienced field staff, both fieldwork training and transcription and translation have taken much longer than expected, and thus we had to scale back somewhat from our initial targets in terms of interviews. We’ve thus decided to focus only on those who work as frontline staff or representatives of the Centre (fieldworkers, CEU officers, and CAB members), and not to do interviews with other community members at this stage of the project. Nonetheless, the insights gained from our work with these individuals have been quite valuable, and we still anticipate other larger studies emerging from our findings on this preliminary bursary. In my next blog post, I'll try to share with you guys some preliminary insights/findings from the data itself. In this post, I'm going to focus more on the practical challenges of doing the researchitself.
One of the key lessons I've learned through this project has been how much more difficult it is to manage ethnographic data collection when not physically present full time at the study site. As an anthropologist, having other do ethnographic data collection for me has been a somewhat new experience for me, but one that I know will become more and more necessary for me as I move on in my academic career and have more responsibilities that keep me tied to the university/office more of the time. Thus, I've been thinking a lot lately about the practical, epistemological, and ethical implications of this kind of ethnographic/qualitative research, where fieldworkers are asked to do data collection for researchers based elsewhere. I know this is standard in other disciplines, but it still feels uncomfortable for me to be so far removed from the process, to being doing what some might call 'extractive' data collection. I worry that this model of managing research from afar makes it much harder to do effective capacity-building work, something I am strongly committed to. I've also found it quite challenging practically to figure out how to train fieldworkers (who often have little to no experience in anthropology/social science) to do this kind of in-depth, iterative data collection work effectively. I've done my best to try to resolve these challenges by running reading groups with interested staff and training sessions when I'm at Africa Centre and have skype check-in meetings. I'd be interested to hear from others in the group how they have thought about or dealt with these challenges.
On a related note, I've recently been asked to run a one-week ethnographic research methods training for 30 social science staff working on a large-scale clinical trial in which I am involved. The group ranges in education level from matric (high school diploma) to PhD, and have very different levels of experience/comfort with ethnographic or social science research. This is an opportunity for me to help shape the data collection in ways that will be useful to myself and other researchers later on, but it's quite hard to figure out how to design a training in such a short time that caters to this diverse group. If anyone in this group has had experience with such trainings, I'd appreciate any suggestions for activities, approaches or references that might be helpful.
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