Research design is rarely made public, buy-in is seldom thought of at the start, and even when it is little is done to assure it. ICT is mostly considered at the dissemination stage of a research project, reaching people who were not involved in the research from the beginning. The research process is only reported retrospectively under academic titles such as “methodology” and “limitations to the study” with public engagement often overlooked. That is where things are, however efforts are being made by many to demystify research and make it relevant to the needs of wider society.
In a new study I’m involved in “The State of Youth in Tanzania, 2013” we realised that our work would be enhanced through an approach that focuses more on engagement, and as such sought to integrate new elements into the research design with the intention of allowing people to interact with the research, researchers and research users as the study progresses. We also chose to try and share the wealth of experience that researchers gain during such studies, how context varies and changes over time, perspectives are on preliminary findings and how all of these things might feed into policy and practice.
- Context, when shared and discussed contributes significantly to understanding the actual context of the study and to making recommendations that are context specific. We managed to develop district profiles with a youth lens based on context based discussions (these will be available through Restless Development Tanzania in the report “Building the future today: An assessment of the state of the youth in Tanzania, 2013”
- Young people and organizations found the blog interesting to read, insightful and educative. Providing them an opportunity to look at issues from a regional perspective. This has the potential for putting value to evidence, although we recognized that young people without access to the Internet did not contribute or comment. A gap we will need to fill using alternative approaches.
- Our online and collaboratvie knowledge sharing tool enabled uploading and downloading of photos, videos, videobytes, voxpops among researchers, staff and consultants involved in the study. The platform also allowed for comments, discussions and opinions which made the exercise interactive and informative. During the study, access to this was controlled to stem unethical use of photos, videos and audios which may contravene privacy, informed consent and confidentiality.
- Crowdmapping was a helpful approach to share information, findings and key issues explored through the study in different regions. However, since this approach was new to the team, little could be done to harness this opportunity, an area that we wish to improve on.
We instituted mechanisms for researchers to conduct courtesy calls at district offices and negotiate feedback sessions on issues that surfaced through the study in the respective districts. The following lessons were learnt:
- Local government officials are exhilarated by courtesy calls being made to their offices to inform them of studies being carried out especially on young people, because little information is available on this cohort, but also that they gain credibility and recognition (see the blog)
- However feedback sessions had a lot of challenges. Officials rarely create the time for such briefings due to “public duties” or issues of protocol. For instance, a junior official cannot convene such a meeting in the absence of a senior official. In cases where feedback sessions were completed, officials supported our findings and reiterated their interest in the final report to guide them in planning youth programming within their districts
- We were not prepared for developing summaries of findings to hand over as feedback to the officials, but we have since learnt from their feedback that it was necessary and this will be pursued with further studies
We also allowed for individual opinions from all participants in the study through comments, posts and discussions via the online knowledge sharing tool (the Box), from which we learnt:
- The comments and discussions provided a rich platform for researchers to put issues into perspective, share opinions and experiences with young people who were not directly involved in the study.
- The experiences influenced the researchers who acted upon those findings which they had the capacity to address (see the blog)
From the lessons learnt, we have decided to continue testing these methods within a new study “YouthMap Tanzania” (courtesy of IYF/Restless Development) to further explore the potential of integrating these tools into the research process, and properly assess to what extent they add value to research communication, and to influencing policy and practice.
It is our belief that we are expanding buy-in, transparency of research processes, interaction with researches and in a small way changing the perspectives of youth, researchers, governments and communities on research as a practice; and through this giving evidence a chance to influence programming for youth issues in Tanzania.
We learn by doing.