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Field Guide for Research in Community Settings

Tools, Methods, Challenges and Strategies

Edited by M. R. Islam, Niaz A. Khan, Siti H.A.B. Ah, Haris A. Wahab and Mashitah B. Hamidi

This insightful book offers practical advice to fieldworkers in social research, enabling robust and judicious applications of research methods and techniques in data collection. It also outlines data collection challenges that are commonly faced when working in the field.
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M. Rezaul Islam, Niaz Ahmed Khan, Siti Hajar Abu Bakar Ah, Haris Abd Wahab and Mashitah Binti Hamidi

Fieldwork/data collection is one of the most important parts in the research process, and it is particularly important for social sciences research. A number of aspects that need to be considered by a researcher before starting data collection include: ethical permission from the concerned ethical body/committee, informed consent, contract with different stakeholders, field settings, time allocation and time management, field leading, data collection, contextual and cultural diversities, community settings, socioeconomic and psychological patterns of the community, political pattern, rapport building between data collectors and respondents, permission to access community, language and mode of data collection, power relations, role of gatekeepers, privacy and confidentiality issues, layers of expectations among researchers/respondents/ funding organization, data recording (written, memorization, voice recording and video recording), and so on. Many aspects are very difficult to understand before going into the field. Sometimes, a researcher’s previous experience about a particular community may help to gain field access, but it may be difficult to assess the field in advance due to rapid changes within people’s livelihoods and other shifts in the community. The change of a political paradigm sometimes seems also to be a challenge at the field level. We believe that although technological innovation has benefited some aspects of the data collection of fieldwork in social research, many other dimensions (mentioned above) of fieldwork endure unchanged.

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Mohammad Hamiduzzaman, Alan Taylor, Belinda Lunnay, Abraham Kuot, Hannah Wechkunanukul, Omar Smadi, Heath Pillen and Fathimath Shifaza

Inappropriate or poorly conducted data collection methods can reduce the validity or trustworthiness of research findings, which has implications for early career researchers trying to disseminate their work and for participants who have volunteered their time and personal information. In Australia, the National Health and Medical Research Council stipulates a governance process that covers standards of ethical practice and the legal responsibilities of researchers in respecting privacy and maintaining confidentiality and dignity of participants. However, data collection in clinical and community settings remains challenging for doctoral and early career researchers due to the complexities of research governance systems and issues with the involvement of participants in research activities. This chapter aims to report on the governance and fieldwork challenges encountered by the Australian doctoral and early career researchers during data collection. The content for this chapter comes from three doctoral and five early career researchers who each provided a summary of their data collection experiences and participated in virtual group discussions. A thematic analytical framework was used to synthesize and interpret the identified challenges and how researchers addressed them. The major challenges were related to the processes involved in research governance, expertise of researchers, health literacy of participants, fieldwork settings, approaching and designing questions, and research fatigue. In addressing the challenges, researchers drew upon personal qualities of persistence and resilience, a clear understanding of the study’s scope and duration, contextual knowledge about the research setting and study participants, piloting of data collection instruments, and relationships with participants. These findings have implications for how future doctoral researchers might anticipate and address challenges in the data collection, and for Australian supervisors in mentoring national and international doctoral researchers.

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Veronika Poniscjakova

This chapter is based on my doctoral research that focused on counter-culture communities in Israel. The objective of my PhD, awarded from the University of Nottingham, UK, was to examine religious Zionist and ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities’ attitudes towards political developments and crises of political and religious nature. This qualitative project utilised semi-structured interviews and non-participant observation as the main methods. It included research fieldwork in Israel, during which I encountered multiple challenges, primarily related to access, trust building, and language issues. The chapter will illustrate these challenges with a case study of interviewing the ultra-Orthodox communities, which tend not to interact with outsiders. I had to identify gatekeepers to introduce me to individuals that are more open-minded. This affected representation and validity but led to snowballing. The chapter will advise on identifying gatekeepers, communicating with interviewees, staying culturally sensitive whilst still getting good data, and understanding the participants’ world.

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Mashitah Binti Hamidi

My interest in conducting research on the Indonesian female workers in Malaysia’s manufacturing sector was piqued when I was informed by an acquaintance, a Malaysian labour outsourcing agent who recruited female labour migrants, that there was a significant number of female Indonesian migrants in Malaysia’s manufacturing sector. For myself, this topic challenged me in my role as an "insider" doing research in my own backyard while seeking to understand at the same time as an "outsider" the experience of female migrants from Indonesia working in the manufacturing sector. Due to the lack of access to women through their place of work, I had to be creative in order to connect with Indonesian women. This often meant hanging around places where Indonesian migrants gathered, such as street eateries, bus stops and sidewalks outside factories in order to make contact with women who had finished their shift or were waiting for a shuttle bus to transport them home. I developed various strategies including the approach I call “walk-in recruitment” to try to get interviews. After a series of rejections from Indonesian and local informants in the first couple of weeks of fieldwork, and after considering that none of the State Government agencies could provide adequate information or statistics about the factories that employed Indonesian women or even women of any nationality, I decided to use basic information obtained from the Internet. This yielded specific information about the number of companies operating in each of the industrial zones in Melaka. Armed with that information, I went to every mentioned district and asked the factory’s security guard about the possibility of Indonesians being employed at their factories.

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Hasan Mahmud

As sociologists recognize, the Weberian and Symbolic Interactionist approaches are the two foundations of ethnography, which both imply that the researchers are outsiders to the groups they study and require accessing the insiders’ perspective. Thus, an adequate understanding of the ethnographer’s position in the field is imperative for anyone doing qualitative fieldwork. In this chapter, I begin with Merton’s discussion on the insider/outsider debate from the sociology of knowledge perspective and demonstrate its epistemological importance for fieldwork. I look at the ethnographic conceptualization of the field in the context of globalization and how migration researchers negotiate their insider/outsider role in conducting fieldwork. Finally, I reflect on my own experience of doing fieldwork among Bangladeshi migrants in Tokyo and Los Angeles. As a Bangladeshi myself, I faced considerable challenges to gain access to the field and build rapport with my informants, which contradicted my expectation of an easy entry to the field. I managed to overcome those challenges by strategically positioning myself in their life course and engaging in purposeful interactions in the field. I conclude by enumerating the advantages and challenges in conducting fieldwork among co-ethnic migrants, which demonstrate how to effectively negotiate positionality and potentially benefit the next generation of migration scholars in conducting fieldwork among co-ethnic populations.

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Rajendra Baikady

The proposed chapter is a natural outgrowth from my PhD thesis, which dealt with a number of aspects associated with social work education in India and China. In particular, my PhD examined the status of social work education in a parliamentary democracy and in a communist regime. I looked at the curriculum, teaching-learning and practices, level of indigenization of social work education and practice and civil society engagement in social work education. The study examined the ontological and the epistemological assumptions that the social work is a socially constructed institutional care practice. In so doing, the thesis probed the emergence and the development of social work, which are largely governed by social, economic, political and cultural context of the country. These contexts either involve or influence the development and relevance of social work. In this chapter I will address the challenges faced and strategies adopted to overcome the challenges during my field work in India and China, particularly the issues related to ethics, interviews accessibility of data and language barriers.

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Sawlat Zaman

The Ready-made Garment Sector (RMG) sector of Bangladesh is the primary source of its foreign currency reserve. Much debate and controversies exist around this industry especially due to catastrophic disasters like Spectrum Collapse, Rana Plaza, and Tazrin Fire that often question the sector’s images on fair labour practices. Accessing this sector in such a context therefore, poses some big challenges to a researcher where management and employers are understandably but extremely sensitive and sceptical to any queries. Bangladesh, at the same time is an under-researched, high-context country where culture is very important to understand social practices that transfuse into day-to-day business practices. This book chapter will discuss access, cultural and contextual challenges experienced by a doctoral researcher during her fieldwork in Bangladesh in 2011. The researcher adopted three key strategies to access interviewees and to reach the required level of data. The first strategy was to have prior preparation and knowledge on the overall industry and participating businesses based on available material. This proved to be useful to build rapport with interviewees and gain their trust or confidence. The second was, to make good use of the researcher’s social networks and use the snowball technique to gain interview access to 72 participants from 22 different garment businesses. The final strategy was, to always have a contingency plan to manage any uncertainty and change in context during fieldwork. The chapter is thus aimed to help potential researchers understand managing data collection especially in an uncertain, low trust and, high culture context.

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Shofiqur Rahman Chowdhury, M. Rezaul Islam and Haris Abd Wahab

This chapter is a part of the first author’s PhD works’ data collection experience in the rural community in Bangladesh as titled Community Empowerment Initiatives of Faith-based NGOs: A Case Study on Islamic Relief Worldwide in Bangladesh where data were collected using convergent parallel mixed-methods research design. The paper neither shares the plethoric field data nor any conceptual jargon about the Ph.D. Work. Rather, it focuses on field experiences during data collection that aims to investigate the nature of the contribution of the Islamic Relief Worldwide (IR), a faith-inspired international NGO to community empowerment from a village of Bangladesh. The chapter discusses some challenges about the accessibility into the community for data collection. Issues cover such as blocking community threat, understanding of local culture, clarifying study objectives, conducting uninterrupted surveys, interviews. Besides, other concerns from the researcher’s perspective are maintaining the professional probity, commitment, and devotion to data collection. The chapter finds the adoptions of different social and institutional gatekeepers, community mapping, applying local contextual examples to clarify study objectives, and recalling positive memories as effective ways to deal with the nuances in the field and data collection. The findings could be useful for the researchers interested in researching the rural area, particularly in the poverty-driven or disadvantaged community

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Nasa’i Muhammad Gwadabe and Adekunle Daoud Balogun

This chapter narrates and analyses the challenges encountered during the process of data collection for doctoral research on Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Northeast Nigeria. The title of the Thesis is “The Humanitarian Response of State and International Organisations to Internal Displacement Induced by Boko Haram in North East Nigeria (2009-2016)”. During the data collection in various IDP camps across the region, the study encountered several challenges during the fieldwork. They include location and accessibility, insecurity, culture and religion, duration of data collection, researchers’ fatigue and sensitive information. The study concludes that the aim of collecting qualitative data is hard to reach in conservative societies; hence, it requires unique strategies that can enable the researchers to reduce obstacles and collect adequate and reliable data. Accordingly, the researcher made use of the traditional and religious institutions to overcome the identified challenges. Using these institutions would make the local participants relax and cooperate in providing the information required. The study adopts a qualitative descriptive method in analysing and summarising the challenges encountered during the research fieldwork.