On Monday 31st January we held a workshop which brought academic researchers together with people from small NGOs with limited experience of participating in research.
The workshop focused on what NGOs need to know to partner on modern slavery research projects
It was powerful to have people and leaders from small NGOs across the globe join us for the workshop – demonstrating the need for more resources and advice on collaboration in the rapidly evolving area of modern slavery research.
We welcomed guest speakers, Karen Eveleigh, Senior Research Facilitator at the Law Faculty, Oxford University who spoke to us about university structures and processes and Professor Jo Meehan, Liverpool University, who gave insights on what good working partnerships and co-design can achieve throughout the research process.
Here are our four key learnings from the workshop….
1. NGO participation in a research project has unique benefits.
Academic research often aims at establishing theoretical understanding, but researchers are also interested in having an impact on the world. NGOs (both large and small) are uniquely positioned to act as a bridge between theory and practice, as well as help with disseminating evidence to relevant policy contacts and other audiences.
It's important to note that academics tend to look at overall principles, patterns, and trends over a period of time - whilst NGOs are more context specific and work closely with people with lived experience of modern slavery. By co-designing research projects and collaborating early, the two can come together to join the macro and micro picture of modern slavery and find illuminating insights that get to the heart of a problem with both evidence and effectivity. So, go ahead, trailblaze away!
2. Start building relationships and collaborations with researchers early.
NGOs can shape the very research question that is being posed – so having relationships in place as early as possible is essential, even if there isn’t a specific funding opportunity yet on the horizon. After all, carving out the right question is critical to reaching the right answer and effective solutions. There are many ways to collaborate, not limited to formal partnerships – even casual conversations can be really important. The earlier collaboration starts, the more potential it can have.
3. Universities are complicated beasts – be prepared for delays.
Universities are historically very complicated structures and are not necessarily easy to navigate. It’s best to start by getting in touch with the researcher you’re interested in working with directly - you may have heard about them from a paper you’ve read, an event you’ve attended or an online search etc. Most departments will have a website with useful contact information for the researcher and/or administrator, who will be your key contacts.
And that’s key: don’t just think about researchers; make sure you are also connected with the relevant administrator, who will oversee things like funding, contracts etc.
Divisions, departments, faculties, schools, colleges, and institutions! Different terminologies are rife – sometimes they mean the same thing, other times they don’t, either way try not to get too stuck on this point. Just know that, in most cases you will want to get in touch with the researcher from a faculty or a department – however, you may have to do some digging to find them. You can also expect further potential delays in getting contracts approved to receiving funding, as the contract must be approved by the university at an institutional level – this is also where contacts negotiations will take place between the university, the NGO, and the funder.
4. You may likely have different processes for handling sensitive data and again, more potential delays….
It’s useful to understand how universities and NGOs handle sensitive data differently. Any researcher collecting personal data will need to gain Research Ethics Approval, which is different to the processes NGOs might have in place. Bear in mind, when it comes to data sensitivity when undertaking interviews, universities have rules that cover all research participants, including senior people such as heads of organisation i.e., data protection isn’t just about people with lived experience of modern slavery.
The research ethics approval process may also be handled at the very beginning of a project, even before the actual contracts are signed – this is so a university understands who owns any sensitive data upfront, what is being transferred, who is storing it and for how long. If your system for data handling is different, it might make for more paperwork and inevitably more delays – not that you need to have the same system, it’s just something to be aware of!
The Modern Slavery PEC can help connect you to the right people
If you missed our workshop, not to worry, you can watch the video or listen to the podcast below.
We understand that there exists a gap between high-quality academic research, the world of policymaking and law-making, and crucial frontline work with people directly affected by modern slavery. We’re working to address that gap.
Whether you were able to join our workshop or not, you can connect with other professionals working on modern slavery research projects by joining our dedicated Modern Slavery PEC Google Group. You can also sign-up to our Modern Slavery PEC newsletter to keep on top of all the funding opportunities and connect with us on Twitter and/or LinkedIn for news and announcements.