Crowdsourcing as a research tool

Recent fieldwork by DLP research fellow Suda Perera is proving a rich source of insight into research methods. 

After two months in the Democratic Republic of Congo gathering preliminary data for her study of armed groups and political inclusion, she returned with recordings and transcripts of more than 200 interviews, 22,000 words of reflection sent home in daily updates to colleagues, extensive field diaries and an experimental research diary. We share some of the early fruits of her work here on the DLP website.

Her research paper on crowdsourcing, Accessing the Inaccessible, is published today. Suda’s project is asking radical questions about how it might be possible to engage with armed groups even while they are actively involved in conflict. Her intention was to combine conventional fieldwork methods with new media crowdsourcing techniques. 

In her paper, she discusses her attempts to gather research data from people in the most conflict-affected areas of DRC using mobile phone technology, hailed by many commentators as a likely source of mass empowerment. However, her experience so far suggests that crowdsourcing may, in fact, be risky for both researchers and their respondents.

Suda also reflects in our Opinions section on whether keeping an informal research diary has helped her get to grips with a vast amount of ‘messy’ data. She muses about the difficulties familiar to all researchers: research questions that shift focus with every new piece of material gathered or reviewed; distracting information that leads down dead-end avenues; too many interesting but red-herring ideas that have no bearing on the core research objective. She explains how the diary at least helped her to ‘park’ such problems and move on.

Finally, in a podcast Suda discusses an increasingly risk-averse approach to fieldwork. Speaking as part of the guest seminar series hosted by the University of Birmingham’s International Development Department, she talks about the impact on her research of the lengthy and convoluted process of seeking permission for her fieldwork from insurers and institutions. She asks whether, as some have suggested, the world really is shrinking – or whether researchers are increasingly obliged to look at it from further away. 

 

Image: Displaced people in Goma, South Kivu, DRC (Julien Harneis, Flickr) 

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