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RiDNet conference 2013: Conducting Fieldwork in Development Contexts: Practical Experiences of Data Collection and Analysis

RiDNet Annual Conferences
Thursday 7 November 2013, 9:00 - 17:30 followed by drinks reception
Room 8.119, School of Earth and Environment

2nd Researchers in Development Network (RiDNet) Conference

About the Conference

Conducting research in development contexts comes with its own challenges. Common issues such as research design, methodologies and planning must be considered alongside more context-specific issues: cultural differences may disrupt communication; corruption may hamper access; ethical issues may be more stringent, and interaction with different social groups may prove challenging.

For all the sessions, we will to hear about your practical experiences – not what it says in the textbook! The conference will be a place to share difficulties, things that you found worked particularly well, and your dilemmas. Keynote speakers will also talk about their experiences of development research.

The Researchers in Development Network (RiDNet) is a multi-disciplinary, cross-faculty network of PhD students working on development at the University of Leeds. Part of our role is to create space for active engagement with fieldwork preparation and reflection among early career researchers. The first RiDNet conference in 2012 afforded a fun and useful way to share experiences. We’re hoping our second conference this November will prove just as valuable and we invite PhD students from any university to attend.

We would like to acknowledge the financial support of the following institutes all based at University of Leeds:

  • Leeds Social Science Institute
  • Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy
  • LEAP Training Hub (Leeds University Business School, Faculty of Education, Social Science and Law, Arts and Performance, Visual Arts and Communication)
  • White Rose Doctoral Training Centre
  • Africa College
  • Sustainability Research Institute

Presentations from last year’s conference were compiled in a research note available here.


Session Outline

Registration - SEE Foyer


Keynote speaker 1: Andy Dougill

Keynote speaker 2: Paul Jackson


Parallel panel sessions

Panel 1: Qualitative and quantitative methods
Panel 2: Working with organisations: managing access and relationships
Panel 3: Working in difficult contexts: the researcher's position


Parallel panel sessions

Panel 4: Participatory Research
Panel 5: Ethical issues in research with organisations
Panel 6: Working in difficult contexts: issues of security and safety


Keynote speaker 3: Katie Willis

Keynote speaker 4: Barbara Evans




Katie Willis, Professor of Human Geography, Royal Holloway University of London

Professor Willis’ research focuses on gender, households and migration. She has extensive fieldwork experience, primarily in Latin America and East Asia. Katie has written widely used textbooks on development, most notably Theories and Practices of Development (Routledge, 2011) and co-edited (with Elsbeth Robson) the original guide to PhD development research – ‘Postgraduate Fieldwork in Developing Areas’, published by the Royal Geographical Society’s Developing Areas Research Group in 1997.

'Learning from Emotions in Development Fieldwork' 

Conducting fieldwork comes with a range of emotional experiences both positive and negative. While there has been significant attention paid to ensuring that research does not have detrimental impacts on researcher participants, and there is a growing focus on emotions as a topic of research in and of themselves, there is far less attention paid to the emotional aspects of researcher for the researcher. In this paper I draw on examples from my own experiences of fieldwork in Latin America and East Asia, particularly focusing on being a PhD student. It concludes by considering different strategies for dealing with the emotional aspects of fieldwork, as well as how emotions resonate through analysis and writing-up of fieldwork.

Barbara Evans, Senior Lecturer in Water and Environmental Engineering, University of Leeds

Barbara’s research is on sanitation and water supply for low income communities, in both rural and urban areas. Before joining the university, Barbara spent twenty years in consultancy and at the World Bank, including ten years living in South Asia, working with local and national governments to improve water and sanitation service delivery. She has also worked widely in Africa and South East Asia.  Barbara was the Urban Team Leader at the Water and Sanitation Program of the World Bank for five years and now chairs the UNICEF/WHO Joint Monitoring Programme which tracks progress towards water and sanitation MDG targets on behalf of the United Nations

'Evidence based policy and development research'

Development agencies are increasingly using the rhetoric of ‘evidence-based policy making’ and ‘results-based programming’ but what does that mean in practice?  Major development funders such as the World Bank have the intellectual capacity to commission or carry out ground-breaking research and high quality evaluations of their work but when the results are unexpected or unpalatable, or when the timeframe for excellent research does not fit with the political cycles of borrowers, tensions often arise.  Drawing on several experiences both while working for the World Bank and as an advisor to the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation and the Department for International Development this talk will explore some the challenges of engaging research and policy and some of the possible strategies to optimise the impact of your research.

Paul Jackson, Professor of African Politics, University of Birmingham

Paul Jackson is a Professor of African Politics. He has worked in Africa and elsewhere for nearly twenty years, including in several post-conflict environments, including Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Northern Uganda, Iraq and Nepal. He has most recently been the international adviser to the Nepali Parliament on the demobilisation and reintegration of the Maoist combatants in Nepal. He has written extensively on security sector reform, security and development and the relationship between local and international approaches to security governance, as well as local ownership. He is a Senior security and justice adviser to the UK Government Stabilisation Unit, a member of the Security Sector Reform Working Group of the Swedish Government Folke Bernadotte Academy and an Advisory Board member of the Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces. He has worked with most major international donors, has carried our research for the ESRC, EU, UK, Swedish and Danish Governments amongst others but is best known for having a Nepali Maoist flag hanging in his office with an AK47 propped up alongside it.

'Choices in research on conflict'

Research around conflict is difficult. It raises questions about safety and security, but also from a research point of view, it raises questions about the position of the researcher as a political actor, the sensitivities of people who may be the subject of the research, and also how far any research can be 'accurate'. For the researcher, apart from ethical issues, there are real questions about the accuracy of data and frequently how to undertake research where there is no data. In terms of the discipline, there are also very real questions about the relationship between work produced within fieldwork situations where the case study approach is the expression of contextual emphasis, and the mainstream approach of IR literature that tends to take cross-study data focussed on the state and usually carried out in Europe and North America. This talk will reflect on approaches to research and where it might lead you and the various different choices you might have to make in terms of fieldwork in 'difficult environments'.

Andy Dougill, Professor of Environmental Sustainability and also Dean of Faculty of Environment at the University of Leeds

Andy has worked on environmental change issues across southern Africa for over 20 years and has developed research approaches that integrate a range of disciplines including soil science, ecology, development studies and environmental social sciences. Research projects have gained funding from a wide range of sources including NERC, ESRC, Leverhulme Trust, Royal Geographical Society, British Council and DFID. He currently holds a Leverhulme Trust Research Fellowship for a project on “Socio-environmental analyses of community carbon projects in Malawi & Zambia”.

'Research without boundaries: trans-disciplinary reflections on participatory environmental pathways'
Starting from scientific study & understanding is often viewed as adding credibility and substance to development debates. However, scientific analyses are themselves dynamic, evolving and uncertain making their integration with local knowledge for improved development planning fraught with research design, methodological and communication system challenges. This talk will reflect on a series of research experiences in which scientific analyses have been incorporated into community-level participatory environmental approaches capable of enabling dialogue between scientists and farmers and will highlight emerging findings on how to improve shared understanding. It will highlight the significant challenges to institutionalising support for such participatory environmental monitoring and management systems whilst displaying the need to build from the advances that such integrated approaches have enabled.