Colchester, United Kingdom

Doing Fieldwork in Challenging Environments

online course
when 22 July 2024 - 26 July 2024
language English
duration 1 week
credits 4 EC
fee GBP 492

Learn how to plan, prepare and conduct field research in particularly challenging environments, such as closed/authoritarian political settings and conflict/post-conflict/post-war contexts.

Need to Know

Some familiarity with research design and qualitative research methods would be beneficial, but by no means a requirement for participation and the successful completion of the course. Participants, who are preparing for field research but have no or only limited experience in doing fieldwork, will profit from this course the most. Participants will be expected to commit approx. 3 hours in preparation for each session, which includes readings and practical assignments.

In Depth - Key topics covered

Day 1: Preparing for the field – risk and data management

The first session will provide you with a general introduction to field research and delve into planning and practical preparation for fieldwork, including ethical and legal considerations. It will further centre on preliminary risk assessment and mitigation, data management plan, and preparing for the Ethics Committee review.

Day 2: Ethnographic methods in the field

During this session, you will cover the specifics of conducting participant observation, ethnographic interviewing, and gathering life histories in conflict-torn and closed political settings, including questions related to navigating unfamiliar and insecure environments (continuous risk assessment and mitigation),researcher positionality, the study of (and work around) sensitive topics, fieldwork in collaboration with local research assistants and interpreters, and data documentation.

Day 3: Expert and elite interviews in difficult contexts

During this session, you will cover both theoretical and practical aspects of conducting expert and elite interviews and how they serve to equip the participants with a solid understanding of the opportunities and challenges of using these methods for qualitative data generation in difficult political environments. You will familiarise yourself with the main principles of structuring interview guidelines, sampling, getting access to relevant interviewees, interviewing strategies and techniques, and immediate ‘post-preparation’ of interviews. The emphasis will be placed on expert and elite interviews in an insecure field, dealing with critical situations in interviews touching upon sensitive topics, and raising awareness of and navigating public surveillance in authoritarian environments.

Day 4: Group interviews and focus groups

In this session, you will cover the main questions related to planning, preparing and conducting group interviews and focus groups in international contexts, including sampling strategies, securing access and recruiting participants, facilitating and moderating group discussions, and documenting the results as well as the main Dos and Don’ts in using these methods in authoritarian and conflict-torn settings. You will be made aware of the differences between focus groups and group interviews, provided with the understanding of these methods’ limitations in challenging research environments, and familiarise yourself with the mechanisms for protection of the researchers and research participants in an insecure field.

Day 5: Leaving the field and possible return

The final session will centre on the specifics of recurring fieldwork in challenging environments, securing the possibility to return, participatory aspects of field research, and potentially adapting research design, including the use of alternative methods for data collection in case on-the-ground fieldwork becomes impossible. With this, you will make a full circle by reiterating the importance of recurring risk assessment and adapting mitigation strategies throughout the data collection in the field.

Course leader

Vera Axyonova is a Marie Skłodowska-Curie REWIRE Fellow at the University of Vienna. She has extensive experience in conducting research in closed/authoritarian political environments, highly volatile conflict/post-conflict settings, and in war context.

Target group

A demanding audience (researchers, professional analysts, advanced students)

Course aim

This course focuses on planning, preparing and conducting field research in particularly challenging environments, such as closed/authoritarian political settings and conflict/post-conflict/post-war contexts. Centred on the ethics and practical aspects of conducting fieldwork in such environments, the course provides hands-on training covering a broad range of questions related to the assessment and mitigation of possible risks, the use of the most common methods in field research, data management, and return to the field.

The course will be most beneficial for participants specialising in Peace and Conflict Studies as well as the studies of forced migration and authoritarianism.

By the end of the course, you will:
- have a solid understanding of the opportunities and challenges of conducting fieldwork in politically closed and conflict-torn settings, including legal and ethical concerns and the possibility of return to the field;
- be able to apply a set of methods commonly used in field research, including ethnographic interviews, participant observation, expert and elite interviews, and focus groups, specifically tailored to challenging research contexts;
- be able to develop a detailed risk assessment and mitigation plan as well as data management and safety plan for their own field research, and prepare for review by the Institutional Review Board or the Ethics Committee at their universities.

Credits info

4 EC
You can earn up to four credits for attending this course.
3 ECTS credits – Attend 100% of live sessions and engage fully with class activities.
4 ECTS credits – Attend 100% of live sessions, engage fully with class activities and complete a post-class assignment.

Fee info

GBP 492: ECPR member - check whether your institution is a member here:
GBP 985: ECPR non-member


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