Many individuals and organizations working in peacebuilding and related field are interested in conducting applied research that integrates theory and practice. In this short guide, I would like to provide some brief recommendations of how to conduct effective research, suggestions for how to disseminate the research, etc.
This is a work in progress and other members of the network are encouraged to post your own suggestions/resources.
Top Suggestions for Developing Effective Research:
1. Have a Clear Research Goal – There are many different approaches to research. One of the keys to success is to be clear about the goal of your project as if a researcher tries to accomplish too many things, this can make the process extremely difficult.
2. See Research as an Evolving Process – Defining research questions, audience and process often takes significant work and time. Enjoy the process, rather than rushing to define everything in one step. Often going through several rounds of developing research questions, hypothesis, etc. leads to a stronger product. Many people find using a creative process can be helpful in narrowing down the research process. For example, instead of only thinking about the research, try drawing, mapping, or other visual approaches to the understanding the research. If there are too many potential topics, sit down and write a few paragraphs about each theme (a quick brainstorm) and then see which is the most compelling.
3. Work with Peers/Colleagues – Conducting research can be an intensive (and sometimes frustrating process). If you have a group of academic or professional peers who can read through drafts of your research proposal, provide input on methodology and help think through ethical dilemmas this can make the process more enjoyable. Often colleagues or mentors at the university or work can help.
4. Ethics Are Important – Research involving human subjects implies certain ethical responsibilities. Researchers have a responsibility to ensure their activities will not harm others, that confidentiality is protected, that participation is voluntary and more. In particular, working with individuals from conflict regions or who maybe in vulnerable situations, implies a greater responsibility for the researcher to ensure that adequate safeguards are in place. Most universities have faculty or offices that help ensure research protocols are ethical and well-designed. If you do not have access to these resources, then please consult some of the key sites/texts in the area.
5. Match the Methods to the Context – There are many different research methods and techniques. Traditionally a divisions exists between quantitative and qualitative (more approaches. Although many researchers do combine both approaches. Within each there are many techniques for data collection and analysis. Make sure that your techniques and approaches are appropriate for the context. In addition, ensure that your data analysis techniques are rigorous.
Some useful Resources include:
University of Peace Africa – Peace Research Methodology Publication
6. Explore Possible Publication Avenues Prior to Initiating your Research – If possible, spend some time exploring possible journals (online and in print), or publishers (books) where you could submit your findings. Read through existing articles to see how issues are framed, formatting styles, possible methodological approaches, etc.
Peace and Justice Studies Association – List of Journals in the Field
Global Development Network Guide to Disseminating Research
7. Use Specialized Websites/Resources on the Internet – There are a wealth of resources on the web that offer specific advice on research methods, approaches, etc. Many sites also allow users to post and ask for suggestions regarding methods, analysis, etc. It may also be appropriate to post on this site. Some useful websites include:
Social Research Methods – Useful Resource Site.
8. Take Courses on Methods – If you’re still in school, taking advantage of research course offerings can be invaluable (and also aid in your future career development). If you’re already in the workplace, some employers will periodically offer courses for staff or pay for outside trainings. Some employers may also provide funds for employees to use specific software packages.
9. Consider Using Data Analysis Software – There are many software packages to aid researchers in their data analysis process (for both qualitative and quantitative approaches). While many software packages are extremely expensive, some are free, and others have significant discounts for universities.
Some useful sites:
Qualitative Analysis Software from American Evaluation Association
Qualitative Data Analysis Resources
10. Citing Documents – There are a number of approaches for citing outside sources in the social sciences including the American Psychological Association, Chicago Manual of Style, Modern Language Association, etc. In writing your research document, ensure that you choose the correct style and use consistent formatting. In addition,
providing citations for outside documents is essential to avoid plagarizing other sources.
Some resources that maybe of use:
Citation Machine– Free online citation site.
Citing Sources from Duke University
THANKS to Mohammed M. Sherif, Sr for contributing the last two points.
11) Understanding the Local Context – This is important because in some communities, traditional norms and values do not permit discussion of some key issues in public. Although the interviewee protection is a key fact, the protection of certain traditional and values norms are also key to success. In some instances, discussions are held with separate groups and all of them coming together under the Palava hut (women, men and youth).
12) Understanding Key Actors and Their Role is Critical to obtaining the right information – neglecting the key actors and their role collectively and individually is also worth noting. Failure to include the right people can (or neglecting them) can negatively affect the research endeavor.
More suggestions/resources will be added in the near future. Please feel free to suggest others.