Devex, together with Facebook, is hosting a “Gender Data Series“ comprising of highly informative webinars. As a gender and qualitative researcher, I am paying close attention to these debates. Recently I listened in on the second webinar of the series, “How unconventional data can inform gender-based violence responses“. The speakers were Henriette Jansen (Technical Advisor on Violence Against Women, United Nations of Population Fund – Asia and the Pacific Regional Office), Emily Janoch (Director of Knowledge Management and Learning, CARE) and Laura Scanlon (Co-CEO of Maido).
The questions and issues raised are pertinent to not just gender researchers, but anyone doing primary data collection with vulnerable or disadvantaged populations in the context of post-COVID-19. Like similar organisations, we at Development Pathways have to prepare for a future where in-country research missions may not be as easy as it has been.
Here are my three main takeaways/food for thought from the webinar:
First, the discussion rightly captures the growing obsession in the recent years on data collection for the sake of data collection, and in that vein, creating more and more complex instruments of data collection and analysis. The pandemic, therefore, offers an opportunity to curb that explorer’s enthusiasm. (Henriette Jansen)
Second, the pandemic and its associated restrictions have put “data use” at the centre of what and how data is collected – pushing us to be very clear on why primary data collection should be done in the first place. In the end, how will this data be used to improve services OR how does its add value? (Henriette Jansen)
Third, safety should be embedded in the design of surveys – this includes both data safety and respondent safety in equal measure (Laura Scanlon)
It must be very carefully considered how our move to digital forms of data collection compromise research ethics on inclusivity, confidentiality and do no harm.
Golden rules for researchers using technology-driven data collection in low-income countries would (at a minimum) include the following:
- Data collection methods cannot leave an incriminating data trail – phones/devices may be borrowed, so safe words should be used to collect data on sensitive issues (Henriette Jansen)
- It is not a space for experimentation – research needs to rely on technology that is accessible, cost-free and familiar (for example, Smartphone apps or text-based apps will not work in contexts with poor literacy levels and/or poor wifi) (Emily Janoch)
- Apps and SMS methods are powerful tools for anonymous data collection on sensitive topics – there will always be value in face-to-face qualitative discussions, but easy and safe to use tech-based research tools can be powerful and in many cases less intimating for people to speak freely on sensitive issues. (Laura Scanlon)
Perhaps what is most discomforting here for qualitative researchers is the convenience of forgetting the human face – the interactions that constantly remind us of the human cost of our research. Most researchers do admit that there is a lot left to learn on how to collect data in this new and uncertain context. But, as the speakers indicated, our biggest stumbling block will not be what is different about the new ways of conducting research (experimentation has been going on for a while now) but ensuring our solutions are ethical in every context.
End note: A great go-to example of how to do it right is Ladysmith Collective’s Gender Data Kit.
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Pathways’ Perspective: What has the Covid-19 crisis taught us about social protection?
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