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Work and Equalities Institute PGR Seminar: Conducting remote research

On Friday 9 April 2021 the Work and Equalities Institute doctoral researchers organised and hosted a seminar on ‘Conducting remote research’. This was the third session of an ongoing seminar series entitled ‘Tackling contemporary research challenges in uncertain times’.

The series stemmed from concerns expressed by doctoral researchers who needed to adapt their research methods to the current covid-19 crisis, but lacked the tools to do this. Hence the series aimed to provide doctoral researchers with some of the tools and ideas needed to overcome this issue.

Co-organiser Abbie Winton comments: "'Conducting remote research' has to date been the most wide-reaching session, drawing over 300 registered attendees from institutions in the UK and globally. This is certainly a testimony to how impactful the new demands of the crisis have been for researchers, who now need to reconfigure their understanding of how work and equalities research can be conducted in appropriate, ethical and meaningful ways.

"During the crisis, remote research has become increasingly important for qualitative researchers to continue with their projects, whether this was via remote interviews, online ethnographies, participatory methods or through the use of data already available via the web. Since the need for remote research prompted by the crisis constituted a new challenge for many, we thought it was useful to draw on the knowledge of experienced academics who had already been innovatively utilising different research approaches."

The team were grateful to be joined by Dr Alberta Giorgi (University of Bergamo) and Professor Lee-Ann Fenge (University of Bournemouth) who both discussed the very different ways that they have conducted remote research. Alberta discussed her use of digital methods, in particular the use and ethics of digital data. She identified several open-access softwares which can be utilised for a variety of purposes, but namely to analyse social media datasets, many of which are readily available for use in social research. This reminded attendees how rich this data can be in helping them understand social phenomena, and how it can be a particularly useful tool to use alongside other in-depth qualitative methods. In particular, Alberta identified how platforms such as Twitter can enable the use of network analysis and how different platforms are rich sources of alternative data when in-person data collection may not be possible.

Lee-Ann shared her experiences and the challenges she has faced in trying to adapt participatory research with hard to reach or seldomly heard groups in a way that is both practical, appropriate and ethically sound in the context of the crisis and subsequent lockdown. While she highlighted many of the risk-preventative measures which researchers can take to ensure no harm is done to  participants (e.g. ensuring participants have access to ‘safe spaces’ when engaging in the research), she also noted that certain types of research have just not been possible in the current context. In particular, she noted that researchers need to be aware how some forms of digital access may be exclusionary, particularly for those who may not have access to the internet or are in vulnerable situations (lacking privacy).

The session culminated in a broad discussion about digital interviewing and how in some cases this may place participants in more vulnerable situations, while at other times it may enable the voices of workers who may not feel safe in a face to face context or lack time for face to face interviews.

The slides of the session and full recording of the discussion can be accessed at this link >>

The final session of the series will take place on 4th June 2021, where delegates will consider some of the issues surrounding the ethnocentrism of research. Further details will be shared in due course.

If you have any questions or would like any more information about this session or future seminars please contact Abbie Winton.