Decolonising Research Methodogies

RDI Network
September 2021
7 min read

We are already aware that power struggles exist as the prominent Global North voices are often who set the research agenda. This process simply just continues the colonisation process. It is the responsibility of the Global North to challenge and explore alternative methods of ‘doing’ and ‘knowing’ in the sector.  
In fact, the COVID-19 pandemic has, in its own way, accelerated the conversation. The current methodologies and research approaches are proving ineffective with travel restrictions enforcing remote based work for the Global North, relying on the locals to tackle the field work. This shift in structures has reopened the discussions around decolonisation, inviting researchers and all other sector workers to reassess what can be done and how it can be done. 

  • Check Your Privilege  

Reflect on your privilege and start to challenge yourself to tackle the hegemonic relations and research methodologies that exist within the development sector. It’s time for Western  researchers to use their positionality to aid the priorities of Indigenous folks, the Global South, and/or other marginalised people. 

  • Let’s reassess the research agenda 

Redirecting the research agenda to be locally driven within Indigenous folks, the Global South,  and/or other marginalised people requires environments that challenge the dominant culture  that currrently exists.  Let’s re-examine for whom is the research, so that non-hegemonic ideals  and research is, not only encouraged, but expected and explored. It is only in such  an environment that multiple layers of action can be taken; including re-evaluating funding  processes, ability to collaborate and design research with participants, and customise systems to  strengthen and facilitate decolonised approaches. 

  • Let’s Talk About Experts 

In re-examining the research agenda, we might also re-classify who is the expert. The current  ‘experts’ in the development sector all seem to fit the same criteria of a Global North, English- speaking, university-educated person. These characteristics need to be addressed and local staff  need an arena to share their expertise, rather than excluded. Further nuance is required to  genuinely decolonise the concept of an ‘expert’ – people, cultures and communities are not a  monolith!  

  • Time To Spice Up the Interview Methodology. The interview method is a core qualitative research methodology. It takes pride in providing a philosophy of knowledge based on truth, while also maintaining objectivity. However, the interview method has historically been shaped around positivist theories and perspectives that exist from the Global North. So, when conducting your next interview, it may just be the ideal time to become exposed to these other ways of thinking, including interpretivists and feminist perspectives.
  • Let’s add some art into the methodology mix. Art is a primary way for many different Indigenous cultures to educate and use in explanatory  means. It’s also a great opportunity for researchers to use when distributing knowledge to  participants and the Indigenous community. Following each workshop or session, create art  together to bridges the gap and provides equal access to everyone. 
  • Respect and Understand Indigenous Ways. For the Indigenous folks in Australia, there is ‘yarning’. For folks in the Pacific, there is ‘talanoa’. These are terms for a conversation or discussion, for both formal and informal settings. The interaction is based on the relationship between the parties involved, ensuring respect is provided to the speaker when sharing their information and story. There are a variety of protocols (dependent of tribe, culture, and group) in place involving being gender sensitive, respect, gift-giving, equal access and freedom to speak. Such processes are valued by many Indigenous cultures across the globe and understanding the use of such methods allows a culturally appropriate lens.  
  • To Be Anonymous, Or To Not Be. Here’s a critical question that really does challenge the status quo, ‘Is it more proactive for  decolonising research and methodology, if the participant is identified?’  It is currently the norm to have anonymity throughout most of the research, but does this  result in the story losing its power? Perhaps if we allowed identification (of course, only with  consent!), it would present a force and a traceable route back to a person, a story, a cultural  root. 

*RDI Network note: If this little nugget of provocation inspires you to think of the ethics of  storytelling, then head over to our Ethics section.  

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