Research Principles of Map Kibera

by: February 8th, 2011 comments: 0

“Kibera’s people deserve to know the facts about their lives.” – Robert Neuwirth, Shadow Cities.

The excellent book Shadow Cities narrates a conversation the author had with a Kibera NGO officer who had overseen research into water pricing in Kibera. The ad-hoc system of water vendors and CBOs in Kibera led to water costing 5, 10, 20 times what a resident of nearby wealthy suburbs paid for municipal water. When asked for the reaction of Kibera residents to this news, the officer told him that he couldn’t possibly share this information with residents because there could be riots.

We strongly disagree that Kibera can’t handle truth. Unfortunately this was one of many research projects we heard about that produced reports about Kibera for other audiences, with disinterest to sharing the results even with Kiberans who helped organize the research. It’s unethical.

Map Kibera has received its fair share of research proposals, and have only so far worked with IDS. They shared our values for how research might best work in partnership with ‘practitioners’ (that’s us), and the proper position in the “Research-Practice Balance”. This post is a quick draft at pulling out principles that guide us in research, and hopefully can serve as a brief guide for other research projects that wish to work us, within Kibera, or within any ‘development context’.

Design in Partnership

For us, research is a partnership. We want a core role in the design of the research project, well before they shape of the research is finalized.

If you’re studying development, or designing some kind of technological intervention, you must at least talk to the subject of research well before submitting the proposal (amazingly this doesn’t happen). They will have very specific guidance on what will work, what won’t work, how your research will be better and more beneficial. It’s possible they don’t want to be studied, respect that choice.

With IDS, we met Evangelia last June, and have had a very strong dialogue throughout the entire process.

Contribute concretely to the research subject

Research, especially in Kibera, is often simply extractive. The researcher interviews, surveys, holds group discussions, and analyses the findings, and publishes in a journal. How did the subject benefit? And we’re talking more than simply sharing the results (though that’s important of course). How can a research intervention promote positive change? Yes, this is anathema to usual “objective” research practice. However, our view is that it’s impossible to be disengaged from the subject of development research, and is in fact unethical to not contribute something concrete.

With IDS, all of the interviews and meetings were facilitated by Sammy, leading up to a gathering of everyone to reflect on the results. This was incredibly valuable for everyone to share their perspectives and understand others. We thought of it as Group Therapy. Additionally, we organized an amazing inquiry led learning session with Aptivate, which contributes to creating a guide book for future trainings.

Complement ongoing projects and schedule

Participating in research takes a lot of time and energy. Map Kibera is busy! The perfect time for you might a horrible time for us. Again, let’s work together to design the research so that it doesn’t negatively impact the actually doing stuff.

This isn’t easy of course. Even with IDS, we were going 150% to do both the research and the rest of the day to day. But we worked it out!

Avoid Survey Fatigue

Kibera has survey fatigue. Imagine having a complete stranger coming to your door to ask you detailed questions about your family’s toilet habits. And then someone else doing it. And again. Would you even answer the first time?

Question whether a survey is really required. Can you get the information you need from someone else, or by a different technique. If you must survey, design it in such a way to reduce time required to answer your questions.

Publish data and results open access

Not surprising, I hope, coming from us. Share your research paper openly, in an open access journal or by publishing to your website.

You’ll be able to find all the IDS research results on this blog when finalized.

Further, publish the data, or make it easily available to other researchers. Your data can live its own life, and benefit way beyond what’s possible in your own work. If the data is sensitive, then of course be careful, but remember the default is sharing everything.

What else?

Let us know in the comments!

This post is part of a series exploring the ideas and issues that have emerged in our research project with Institute of Development Studies, supported by DFID. All posts from the Map Kibera team, the researchers from IDS, our trainers and colleagues are collected here. As always, we are eager to discuss this work, so we hope to hear your comments.

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