Re-imagining virtual field research during a global pandemic: Shifting methods – Part I

Similar to other researchers during this global pandemic, we have had to re-think how to conduct our international fieldwork, as our original in-person plans were impossible (IDRC n.d.). At the onset of this research, we (Canadian and South African partners) had no notion that we would be making a shift in our plans for conducting fieldwork in South Africa. Initially, the Canadian Project Team had planned to join the South African Project Team to conduct face-to-face interviews and participant observation, but when COVID-19 officially was declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization on March 11, 2020, we knew that adjustments would be necessary.  We began to shift the data collection phase of our project from in-person to virtual research. In this blog (Part I), and a subsequent blog (Part II), we describe our revised approach and methods to conducting remote online field work, aligning with the Canadian Coalition for Global Health Research (CCGHR) principles (2015) as a framework to guide the integration of equity considerations in the mutual and reciprocal decision-making process for our global research practices (Plamondon & Bisung, 2019).

There are six equity-centred, interrelated guiding principles: authentic partnering, inclusion, shared benefits, commitment to the future, responsiveness to causes of inequalities, and humility, with equity at the centre which is central to the goal and outcome of the process.  “Each principle is meant to complement the others, working collectively to inform any approach to global health research” (CCGHR, 2015, p. 1).  In this initial blog, we address the first principle, authentic partnering.

Canadian Coalition for Global Health Researchers (CCGHR) (2015).

The principle of “authentic partnering” focuses on the importance of ensuring that our actions and intentions are aligned around equitable research processes, relationships, and outcomes. The importance of listening to the voices of both sides of the research partnership is essential to ensure that the best solutions to the shift in data collection processes are equitable for both sides of the partnership (CCGHR, 2015, p. 4). With this principle, we describe how we openly engaged in discussions around shared decision making, and access to resources during the data collection process related to equity centered research practices.

The importance of listening to the voices of both sides of the research partnership is essential to ensure that the best solutions to the shift in data collection processes are equitable for both sides of the partnership (CCGHR, 2015, p. 4).

As the global pandemic evolved, we began having conversations during our research meetings to assess and determine what would be practical for conducting fieldwork in South Africa. We were aware that we would have to re-imagine and institute adjustments to our initial in-person fieldwork data collection plans. Consequently, over the past several months our conversations have focused on determining what would be feasible, first, conducting our fieldwork to keep the research project moving forward within the funding agencies guidelines, and second, abiding by the overarching restrictions of the global pandemic specific to each of our countries.  Based on the global travel restrictions that were in place for an extended period, it became apparent that specific adjustments were required to manage on-the-ground human resources of persons’ collecting the data, and the equitable allocation of material resources, which included the remote online platforms required.

Pertaining to human resources, our discussions between our South African and Canadian partners focused around on-the-ground logistics, specifically working alongside, and engaging our Northern Cape Community Research Coordinator, Mpho Tjope, Founder & Director of Albinism Advocacy for Access, regarding various adaptations that were necessary for a shared understanding during this global pandemic. Tjope is familiar with the context, so oversees the ongoing remote data collection process. The various roles for the Community Research Coordinator were mutually decided with South African and Canadian partners, consisting of the ongoing discussions regarding recruitment, while ensuring the safety of participants; and the introduction and accessibility to material resources, specifically mobile and virtual modes of WhatsApp and Zoom (Singh, et al., 2021).

Working with our South African partners at the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria, represented by Ms. Innocentia Mgijima-Konopi, who is knowledgeable about the broader country context including labour and tax law practices was helpful in establishing the appropriate remuneration for Community Research Coordinators, particularly considering additional data collection activities due to this shift in methods. As well, we have accommodated for the difference in time zones between South Africa and Canada when conducting remote interviews; determined the appropriate virtual modes (mobile phone and computer access) and internet access (wi-fi connectivity); and arranged transfer payments for various budgeted expenses.  Expenses include funds for the Community Research Coordinator’s role; a stipend for the Cultural Liaison’s role as a translator; and research participant stipends for internet usage.

In our next blog, Part II, we will address the CCGHR principles of inclusion and shared benefits of best practices during the data collection phase of the project.

Blog written by Dr. Barbara Astle & Innocentia Mgijima-Konopi
Feature Photo Credit: Meghann Buyco

References:

Canadian Coalition for Global Health Researchers (CCGHR) (2015). CCGHR Principles for Global Health Research https://www.ccghr.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/CCGHR-Principles-for-GHR-FINAL.pdf

Lupton, D. (2020). Doing fieldwork in a pandemic (crowd-sourced document). Available at: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1clGjGABB2h2qbduTgfqribHmog9B6P0NvMgVuiHZCl8/edit?ts=5e88ae0a#

Plamondon, K., & Bisung, E. (2019). The CCGHR Principles for Global Health Research: Centering equity in research, knowledge translation, and practice. Social Science & Medicine, 239 (112530).

Sing, N.S., Lokot, M., Undie, C., Onyango, M.S., Morgan, R. et al. (2021). Research in forced displacement: Guidance for a feminist and decolonial approach. The Lancet, 397, P560-62.

World Health Organization (WHO) (March 11, 2020). WHO Director-General’s opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19 – 11 March 2020 https://www.who.int/director-general/speeches/detail/who-director-general-s-opening-remarks-at-the-media-briefing-on-covid-19—11-march-2020

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