Managing Bias in Research
When designing any research, it is important to consider what possible biases might influence which groups or individuals become involved the research.
Participatory approaches should empower all people to find solutions to their own development challenges. Participatory approaches also assume equality of knowledge between outside experts (researchers) and community members. For these reasons, it is crucial that practitioners of participatory approaches should ensure the influence of bias is limited at every stage of the research.
Researchers should reflect upon any potential biases that might exist during the planning stage. While researchers may not have control over all biases, it is important they have a strong awareness of them.
Tool Q can be used to identify and manage biases, applying six categories of bias in the identification process:
Spatial bias: The selection of a research area based on convenience and access. This might limit the participation of people in more remote communities (often the poorest).
Project bias: The selection of a research area based on the presence of other projects run by the organisation or others in the sector doing similar work.
Person bias: The selection of respondents who are easy to access and interact with. This means the views of certain types of people can be overrepresented in the interviewing process.
Seasonal bias: The collection of data during one part of the year, which only captures the activities, roles, benefits and challenges of that part of the year.
Diplomatic bias: The non-reporting of a problem by participants, out of respect or embarrassment because the problem may have a negative social stigma.
Professional bias: The filtering or analysing of information during the research through the lens of one’s professional training, expertise or knowledge, rather than objectively considering it as reported.
Receiving and Managing Complaints
A complaint is when one of the research participants formally tells the researcher or another trusted person about a problem they have with the research project.
Across cultures, people communicate their dissatisfaction or complaints in different ways; story-telling, direct communication, telling others people not involved, using fables or parables, gestures, body language, and sometimes just silence. Some people may want to discuss a complaint openly, others may wish to make a complaint anonymously.
Whatever the cultural context, researchers should ensure there is a transparent method or way of receiving and managing complaints that is visible and clearly accessible to all participants. The three most important parts of any complaints management process are:
- Listen to the whole complaint and gather as much information as possible about it
- Acknowledge that the complainant’s concerns about the research are important
- Respond to the complaint by taking steps to resolve the situation with the complainant.
Often the complainant might have ideas or strategies on how to remedy the situation, so it is important to ask.