Conducting research with refugee communities is challenging in all parts of a refugee’s journey. However, the varying transitionary stages of refugee journeys (that sometimes includes stages of protracted natures such as residing in a refugee camp) require researchers to consider the methodological approach and methods to conducting research with refugee communities and humanitarian stakeholders. This if the first of several blog posts that will discuss the different considerations for research methods and methodologies as a basis for a workshop that will be held at CHI 2017.
In developing contexts, most research is conducted in situ e.g. refugee settlements/camps. This differs greatly from conducting research and design workshops in public spaces such as libraries and university offices. The physical contexts may restrict methods to be used. For example, when doing research in informal tented settlements in rural Lebanon most of the activities are conducted in the tent of one of the community members. The tents do not have any tables nor any form of elevated seating; participants and researchers sit on cushions on the floor that is sometimes covered with a rug or is bare. The floor is not tiled and not a smooth surface, this coupled with the seating arrangement makes design activities that involve drawing, sketching and even mapping quite frustrating and cumbersome for participants. Therefore, careful consideration is needed for the length of the activities and their structures (i.e. how many participants per group, size of drawing paper etc).
Additionally, we need to consider what materials we can take with us to the field to support the activities (e.g. drawing boards). When considering supporting materials, we also need to reflect on the fact that refugee communities are resource constrained, and drawing boards would be appealing materials that the community would like to keep for their children to use. That would be great if you can give each family in the camp the board – else tensions would arise about who gets what (and of course if your budget allows you to).
This is further compounded by local ethic boards advising against leaving such materials behind as they may be coercive. Consequently, I would suggest placing thick cardboard on the floor where the drawing activities would take place, divide activities into smaller activities that are separated by discussions and conducted over longer time frames, for example dividing what you would usually do in a three-hour design workshop (not accounting for breaks) into several activities over several days that are accompanied by other form of activities including social activities.
This physical context differs from that of refugees in formal camps such as Zaatari camp, urban refugees and refugees that have resettled in host countries. Zaatari camp has several NGO centers across the 12 districts of the camps that are equipped to facilitate group activities. Similarly, urban refugees and resettled refugees are usually invited to community centres, community health clinics, public libraries and even public spaces such as parks for engagements. These facilities can be used to conduct research and design
For more information please contact Reem Talhouk.