Inclusion plays a vital role in the delivery of accurate and credible research. When facilitating research with diverse and vulnerable groups, there are important things you will need to keep in mind. Adhering to cultural protocols and using the correct language are just some of the things that can help with building an inclusive research practice. There are a lot of different ways to be an inclusive and culturally literate researcher.
To get you started, we have put together some of our top tips on facilitating research with diverse and vulnerable groups.
1. Know your place
Whether we are working with “heavily researched” groups or communities we have very little knowledge about, keeping your assumptions about different communities in check can be more of a challenge than we may like to admit. Lack of first hand exposure, or even well-intentioned presumptions about certain groups, can sometimes get in the way of a genuine interaction.
This is why it is vital for researchers to know our place. We are not the experts in our participants’ lives – they are. No matter how much research you have, or do not have, about a specific community, always remember to leave any assumptions at the door.
2. Follow cultural protocols
Being culturally literate goes hand in hand with conducting research with diverse or vulnerable communities. For example, if you are facilitating research with people from the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community, keeping with the correct protocol is both respectful and vital to the effectiveness of your work. After all, being a researcher heavily relies on building relationships and trust with participants.
If you do not have confident knowledge of cultural protocols, partner up with researchers or organisations that do. In the case of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander research, connect with Indigenous ethics bodies, community elders, activists or researchers. If you need the input of another researcher or organisation, keep in mind that an individual’s opinion is not always representative of a whole community, so do your best to gain a deep understanding of an issue.
3. Don’t make promises you cannot keep
Researchers know the importance of our work, but it’s not always something that is easily communicated. When working with a vulnerable or diverse community, it can be tempting to make promises about the potential impact of your research. But often times, people from vulnerable groups have heard it all before. A better approach is to be thankful of your participant’s time and respectful of the knowledge that they are generously sharing – without the explicit promise of immediate and significant change.
4. Build relationships with diverse and vulnerable communities
Often times, mistrust runs deep in diverse and vulnerable communities. It’s an understandable sentiment, particularly when we factor in decades of institutionalised mistreatment and marginalisation. As researchers, it is integral that we build relationships and actively burst the kinds of bubbles that can make us uniformed or ignorant of different people. A lot of our work is based on connecting with people and trust, so taking the time to be genuine and empathetic will only make you a better researcher.
5. Don’t be tokenistic with your research
There is a big difference between carrying out inclusive research with integrity and simply including diverse participants to tick a few boxes. If the scope of your research area allows for it, make an active and conscious effort to include people from a diverse range of communities. For example, if you are running a focus group for a business targeting mums, it would be exclusive to just involve white heterosexual mothers living in middle-class suburbs. The make up of families is much more diverse than we often represent in media and it’s crucial to reflect this in your research.
6. Understand intersectionality and why it is important
Intersectionality describes the ways different kinds of oppressive forces (e.g. racism, sexism and classism) connect and work together to affect a person’s life. For example, a gay Asian woman will experience sexism, racism and homophobia throughout her life and it is impossible to examine each of these oppressive experiences in isolation to the other.
If you are conducting research with a specific diverse or vulnerable group, it is essential to be aware of intersecting identities and how this will impact a participant’s day-to-day life. If you are user-testing a service targeting the LGBTIQ community, for example, ensuring you have participants who also identify as CALD, from lower-socioeconomic backgrounds and other vulnerable or underrepresented groups, will make your research results more nuanced and more accurately reflective of a community.
7. Know your language
When working with diverse audiences, it’s important to stay informed and learn key terms that relate to identity. For example, take the time to understand the difference between words like transgender and cisgender, or acronyms like POC and CALD. Using the correct language may seem like a trivial matter, but it helps participants avoid the need to continuously explain themselves to you.
This is particularly helpful when working with groups who regularly experience exclusion and discrimination. Feeling disempowered and marginalised is a common occurrence in vulnerable communities and it not a sentiment you want to unintentionally repeat during your research. Keep it mind that while using the correct language goes a long way, there is also a line between being respectful and making assumptions over someone’s identity. When in doubt, speak to a expert in the field and ask for advice on the correct language to use or find some online best practice resources. If all else fails, let participants lead the way and allow them the space to use the language that they prefer.