Methods and Ethics of Research with Refugee Children and Youth
Photo: Sahrawi boy improvises a toy.
Drawing on the wealth of experience represented by the participants at the Cyprus workshop and the specific insights gained from the Palestinian, Sahrawi, and Afghan fieldwork, several points were made regarding the methods and ethics of child-focused research in refugee settings.
Research with youth should foster an open environment for their participation. The group identified local schools as ideal locations, as they often represent an environment of familiarity. Alternative sites should be made available, however, as some students associate school with teacher cruelty and punishment.
The workshops, exercises, and activities aimed at drawing children into the research should be sensitive to social context. What works with one group may be inappropriate for another. The working group emphasised the need to make a special effort to provide appropriate spaces for girls and women to participate.
The benefits of informal methods were discussed, as these are often more effective for building the trust and rapport necessary for research intended to span months or years.
The age and attitudes of the researchers are also important to build relationships; researchers should respect children and children's opinions and not reinforce age-based hierarchies.
Training sessions can teach young people to use a variety of media to document personal and family histories of older generations which can be archived in a central location and made available to the local population, with possibilities for sharing more broadly via the internet.
Assets mapping was suggested as a tool to identify the various resources created by and available to children, their families, and communities, including, for example, social networks, educational resources, monetary resources, humanitarian aid and local NGOs.
The importance of managing expectations was also emphasised and requires that the scope and aims of the research are clearly communicated to the youth and their families. In this way, a common vision regarding the project and the community's involvement may be established for the short and long-term. Promises should not be made that cannot be kept. The research teams must always be conscious of the power relations that mark their relationships with the target populations.
The value of combining qualitative and quantitative research methods was also underscored in the discussion. Linking the micro and macro levels of analysis is something toward which we should strive. In the Palestinian, Sahrawi, and Afghan research, the narratives of youth and their families were contextualized with basic socioeconomic data which will allow us to compare attributes across the three groups.
One of the aims of participatory research should be to build local capacity - with the individuals involved, local researchers, and NGOs. One of the challenges to participatory research is that in order for it to be effective it often requires extensive training. This requires time, staff, and resources, often unavailable to local NGOs or other groups interested in using participatory methods. Creating vertical and horizontal links may contribute to this capacity-building. Links between various sectors, from universities, to researchers, to local NGOs, can help to create webs of resources, knowledge and practice.