Aligning Intentions with Community: Graduate Students Reflect on Collaborative Methodologies with Indigenous Research Partners
1.1. Collaborative and Community-Based Research
1.2. Graduate Student Experiences with CCBR
2. Methods and Methodology
2.1. Guiding Principles of Collaboration
2.2. Graduate Student Authors
2.4. Narrative Analysis
3.1. Research Project Design
3.1.1. Graduate Student Perceptions of Research Experience
The personal trials in this work can be significant, if not immense. This aspect of the work is unexpected for many students. The transformation you will undergo is not mentioned in the application process for graduate school. Not everyone is suited to the unique demands of community-based research work, especially in a cross-cultural situation. To achieve the goals of the research as well as benefitting the partnering community, one must work hard on the everyday and unexpectedly stressful work of finding people to interview, cold calling (even a great research assistant is not going to do all this work for you), meeting new people and engaging in a highly unfamiliar ritual with them involving knowledge exchange, often on sensitive topics. Personal traits such as introversion or extroversion can affect this experience significantly (Wray).
The individual’s personality can be considered as a barrier, especially regarding the ability to react to the unpredictability of the research. For instance, at one point in the research, I had to telephone people in the community to find people to interview, despite feeling uncomfortable calling people I did not know.
My intimate knowledge of the community did give me access to members I otherwise may not have known. On the other hand, because of my social proximity to my research participants and the personal nature of my questions, there was a reluctance among many participants to share their stories about traumatic, yet formative histories (Soukhaphon).
The first problem I experienced was fear about working with local communities, or whether or not I was the right person for this project. As a white woman, it was hard to decide what my role was or how involved I could be with communities. As someone who has never travelled to Thailand before this project, I did not know what to expect from the community people, or what their expectations would be of me (D’Souza).
I am very aware of my privileged position towards a population that has been historically abused (and is still marginalized nowadays) where science has played a major role. Although my intentions seem fair, there is a question coming through my mind throughout the whole research process: Do I have the ethical legitimacy to work on this topic? (Heredia).
3.1.2. Project Scope: Defining the Research
My ultimate goal was to support to local initiatives by using my data to show how those local initiatives are really changing local realities ecologically, economically and socially. They [the community partners] helped me with that. Even after changing the idea of my project and trying to delineate my interview questionnaires according to feedback, I ended up changing those questionnaires many times whenever I discussed that with someone there. It was an important learning process of trying to align intentions (Freitas).
Initially, I went up to the communities with a set of questions that had been created prior to discussion with the community…However after a few interviews, it became apparent that there was commonality in the answers between the interviewees and it would be beneficial if more questions were added to help clarify the situation and help to refine the data obtained. Therefore, the interview questions were adapted to better obtain answers so that there was more consistency in the material obtained…I was able to adjust the questions to allow easier data gathering and analysis. But because I wanted to compare across communities, I also had to ensure not to change the questions too much, or it would be difficult to make comparisons between the two datasets (Spicer).
Sometimes we won’t get it right. It is important to get input from our community partners and from the people we are interviewing. As outsiders, we may be asking the wrong questions all together. We need to accept that the people we are seeking out are the experts and we need to be open to their direction and insight. Humility is key (Oloriz).
I also asked for the advice of community partners about the questions I hoped to ask individuals to stimulate conversation. I use the last sentiment intentionally. As community researchers, we have to be flexible in how we plan to collect our information and be prepared to change our methods, questions and expectations if our original plans don’t work. Research questions should only be thought of as a guide - a framework if you will. Not everyone will have the same knowledge, or be willing to share the same level of information with us (Oloriz).
3.2. Research Project Implementation
3.2.1. Navigating Academic and Community Timelines
At the university, a master’s student is [sometimes] expected to conduct research and write their thesis within a two-year period. This tight timeline can be very restrictive in any subject matter, never mind when you are dealing with extensive travel to northern communities and the possible complexities of working within First Nation communities. It can be very challenging to go into a community that is often suspicious of outsiders and try to conduct research, asking questions of individuals who are wondering why you are there (Spicer).
[Because of my business it was] impossible for me to go up and stay for extended periods of time in the communities to develop the necessary relationships so that I could conduct research on my own (Spicer).
I have had the fortune to be in this situation, and I don’t think that I would be able to conduct my research quite the same without those relationships. When the trust has already been built up for you, it can be a great privilege to have yourself introduced by someone, or to introduce yourself and say that you’re associated with people that community members or organizations already know (Proverbs).
My research in Thailand would not have been possible without the support of my supervisor and the Mekong School, who was able to connect me with an environmental non-governmental organization (ENGO) that had done previous Thai Bann research in northern Thailand. Her relationship with the ENGO, and the ENGO’s relationship with community members were literally the only reason I was able to connect with so many individuals that had experience and knowledge of the Giant Catfish and the Mekong River (Oloriz).
One of the main issues I had was organizing a designated time for interviews. We would be calling participants the night before to see who would be available and when, but even when we tried to set up an interview for 10 am it normally wouldn’t actually begin until much later. I do realize that because we were only there for a short while that things were going to feel rushed already and I am hoping that since I will be there for much longer this summer it won’t feel as pushy and rushed (Martin).
There is a significant fatigue towards research in northern communities, given the overload of projects along with their lack of impact, which affects our ability to engage community members (Heredia).Understand that members are living their lives and should not be expected to change their plans so that you can conduct an interview. Be flexible and understand that timings can often seem to be more of a suggestion, not necessarily a firm set in stone occurrence (Spicer).
When I am in the community, I have infinitely more opportunities to receive these opportunities and teachings from the land and community members, to bolster the knowledge and data gained through other research methods (Proverbs).
As researchers, we are often put in the precarious position of entering an unfamiliar environment and asking community members to share personal information about their lives and relationships to the land, waters and the other people in their community. This is a daunting task, especially when time is limited. In these circumstances, the value of having someone from the community you are visiting involved in your research cannot be underestimated (Oloriz).
3.2.2. Ensuring Benefits for Community Partners
During this pilot fieldwork, which lasted a few months, I collected no data at all. I was just meeting people, spending time with them, observing their fishing activities, understanding their main concerns (Freitas).
[The community researchers hired for the project] were crucial to my success and without their help I would have extensively less data to work with. They were also essential in dealing with people who did not speak English and needed a translator. Although they were paid well for their work, this worked out better in the sense of overall costs of the research in that I was there for ten days in each community versus two or three months. This meant my overall living expenses were extensively lower due to my shorter trips (Spicer).
The value of having someone from the community you are visiting involved in your research cannot be underestimated. This helps researchers not only identify who they should be speaking to, it helps with logistics (i.e., setting up meetings, travel to and around the community) and with building trust. It also makes sense to “invest” in the communities we are working in by paying local assistants and sharing some of the benefit of our work (Oloriz).
When I went to the field my feelings changed. I had to reaffirm to myself why I decided to undertake this kind of research, and why I thought this was so relevant. We have to work with what we think is important and motivating for us and for the local people who we really care about (Freitas).
I have to admit that I realized how quantitative data could be important. I saw people changing public policies (including policies that would directly affect local people’s life) because they could show evidence to support their arguments. Unfortunately, to have strong evidence sometimes it is not enough to say that a few people said something; you need to have some numbers and graphics in hand. I saw how glad local people were about those changes, so I realized that maybe this was the way I could actually help them - on one hand, I had skills to deal with numbers and analysis, while on the other, I had the interest to hear local people and understand their concerns. I tried to think how I could delineate my research in such a way that I could show in numbers and graphics some of the patterns that they were mentioning based on their empirical knowledge (Freitas).
3.3. Post-Project Engagement
I would like to highlight the importance of going back to the field to share the results of our research with local people, and discuss that with them. I did that for my masters project and I could see how much they valued it. Of course, it is money and time expense to go one more time to the field, especially when you work in an isolated place, but that has to be included in our budget since the beginning. Firstly, local people have the obvious full right to know what exactly we did with all the information they gave us, and to expose their opinion about what we captured from what they said. Secondly, this is an opportunity to share different knowledge and perspectives with them. When I get back to the communities where I did my masters, I showed the results of my research on the floating islands, and showed examples of similar environments from all around the world. They were so impressed and grateful to see that. It made me think that, even though I could not change anything in their lives with my research, at least this moment was a good contribution I could give to them. Some of them said that if all the researchers working in the area did that, they would be much happier with the idea of having research being conducted there. Thus, I think this is the minimum we can do, thinking not only on local people their selves, but also on the future of research involving local communities (Freitas).
4. Discussion and Conclusions
Graduate students, don’t even think of trying to design a dissertation project in collaboration with your subjects, we don’t want you to do that. We want you to command it and design the whole thing and we want to know, you to know, what you are doing, we want you to do colonial research. You design the thing and do some nice little polite things with the people you are studying and try not to injure anybody but we want you to control the design of the research project. I’m caricaturing what I know, darn well, is our stance  (49:50).
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|Research Project Design.||Research Implementation||Post-Project Engagement|
|Solicit input about the research project prior to the start of the research.||Hire a community researcher.||Provide copies of research outcomes (raw data) to the community and/or to the research partner organization.|
|Verify research outcomes with interviewees or focus group participants.||Include the research partner or participants in local/regional sharing outcomes (e.g., local public meetings).|
|Include the research partner/organization in the interpretation of research outcomes.||Include a representative of the community partner organization/research partner as a co-author of presentations or publications.|
|D’Souza||University of Alberta||Environmental Sociology||MSc|
|Freitas||Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Norte||Ecology||PhD|
|Heredia||University of Ottawa||Geography||MA|
|Martin||University of Alberta||Environmental Sociology||MSc|
|Oloriz||Royal Roads University||Environment & Management||MA|
|Proverbs||University of Victoria||Environmental Studies||MSc|
|Soukhaphon||University of Wisconsin-Madison||Geography (People-Environment)||PhD|
|Spicer||University of Alberta||Environmental Sociology||MSc|
|Wray||University of Alberta||Environmental Sociology||PhD|
|Researcher-Author||Project Title||Place/Region & Community Partner||Summary of Project Focus|
|D’Souza||Diversification of livelihoods in a region impacted by hydroelectric development: A case study in the Lower Mekong (Mun River/Sebok River).||Mun River and its tributaries, Thailand; Communities: Baan Kho Tai, Baan Huay Mak Tai, Baan Don Sumran, Baan Wangsabang Tai, Baan Thalat, Baan Doom Yai, Baan Na Choom Chon, Baan Hua Hew #4, and Baan Hua Hew #11.||To understand how households and Lao communities, reliant on the Mun River and its tributaries, are coping with changes in local aquatic ecosystems and their fishing livelihoods as a result of the Pak Mun Dam .|
|Freitas||Arapaima fisheries co-management in the Amazon: Ecological, social, and cultural aspects.||Riverine communities of the middle Juruá River and the lower Purus River, Amazonas state, Brazil.||To study the nuances of the ecological and socioeconomic outcomes of local initiatives of Arapaima fisheries management .|
|Heredia||Implications of socioecological changes for Inuvialuit fishing livelihoods and the country food system: The role of local and Traditional Knowledge.||Inuvik and Aklavik in the Mackenzie River Delta, Northwest Territories (NWT), Canada; The Fisheries Joint Management Committee.||To understand the implications of socioecological changes in the Mackenzie River Delta for Inuvialuit fishing livelihoods and the country food system, drawing from local and Traditional Knowledge .|
|Martin||Times of change: Traditional Ecological Knowledge in the Sahtú Region.||Great Bear Lake, NWT, Canada; Hamlet of Délįne, Délįne Got’ı̨nę Government, and the Sahtu Renewable Resource Board.||Exploring Délįne Got’ı̨nę (the people of Délįne) cultural conceptions of climate change; linkages between environmental fluctuations, impacts to fishing livelihoods, and the well-being of the people of Délįne .|
|Oloriz||Towards biocultural diversity conservation. Knowledge, cultural values, and governance of species at risk: The case of the White Sturgeon (Canada) and the Mekong Giant Catfish (Thailand).||Stó:lō Coast Salish fishers and the White Sturgeon population of the Lower Fraser River, British Columbia, Canada; the fishers of Baan Had Krai (ethnic Lao villagers from the Dai Yuon Tribe) and the Mekong Giant Catfish population of the Mekong River in Northern Thailand, near Chiang Khong in the Chiang Rai Province.||How to elevate the role of Traditional Ecological Knowledge and Indigenous cultural values in decision-making processes that affect local ecosystems and livelihoods? By highlighting collaborative efforts between local fishers and government to create conservation strategies that protect both biological and cultural diversity .|
|Proverbs||Social-ecological change in Gwich’in Territory: Cumulative impacts in the cultural landscape, and the determinants of access to fish.||Gwich’in Settlement Area, NWT, Canada, incl. the communities of Aklavik, Fort McPherson, Inuvik, and Tsiigehtchic; Gwich’in Renewable Resources Board, Gwich’in Tribal Council Department of Cultural Heritage, Renewable Resources Councils in Aklavik, Fort McPherson, Inuvik, and Tsiigehtchic.||To increase our understanding of social-ecological changes occurring in Gwich’in territory by examining cumulative impacts occurring in the Gwich’in cultural landscape, and by exploring the determinants of access to fish, and the relationship between fish and well-being in Gwich’in communities .|
|Soukhaphon||Damming rivers, undamming difference: The politics of engendered knowledges and networks in the ethnic Lao spaces of the Lower Mekong Basin.||Transboundary region of northeastern Thailand, southern Laos, and northeastern Cambodia.||The research addresses the different ways that ethnic Lao people interpret and respond to hydropower development projects that are increasingly under criticism by scholars and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).|
|Spicer||Drinking water for northern Canadian Indigenous communities.||Dene Tha First Nation, Kátł’odeeche First Nation; High Level, AB and Hay River, NWT.||Documenting the experiences of many Indigenous communities across Canada in accessing clean, drinkable water .|
|Wray||Making a place for Indigenous fishing livelihoods: Navigating cross-scale institutions in Great Slave Lake commercial fisheries management.||Great Slave Lake, NWT, Canada; Kátł’odeeche First Nation.||Exploring the role of the Aboriginal user communities and rights holders in the evolution of Great Slave Lake commercial fishery management institutions.|
|Organizing Category||Organizing Sub-Category||Tracking Change Guidelines||Results & Best Practices|
|Research Project Design||Perceptions and Reflexivity on research experience||Solicit input||Recognize your strengths, weaknesses, and aptitudes|
|Research Project Design||Perceptions and Reflexivity on research experience||Overcome discomfort and push your personal boundaries|
|Research Project Design||Perceptions and Reflexivity on research experience||Appreciate the complexity of your role as an insider or outsider, or both|
|Research Project Design||Project scope: Defining the research||Imagine doing the research in a way that benefits or positively impacts community partners|
|Research Project Design||Project scope: Defining the research||Adapt project focus and methods in response to on-the-ground reality|
|Research Project Implementation||Navigating timelines||Engage with people on the land and at community cultural events|
|Research Project Implementation||Navigating timelines||Draw on your supervisor relationships and networks to minimize challenges|
|Research Project Implementation||Navigating timelines||Be adaptable to community and respondent timescapes|
|Research Project Implementation||Ensuring benefits for community partners||Hire community research assistant||Engage with and hire community research assistants and involve youth wherever possible|
|Research Project Implementation||Ensuring benefits for community partners||Consider every tool available to you to benefit your research partners|
|Research Project Implementation||n/a||Verify research outcomes||n/a|
|Research Project Implementation||n/a||Include community partner in data interpretation||n/a|
|Post-Project Engagement||n/a||Share research outcomes||Return research results and outcomes to the community partners|
|Post-Project Engagement||n/a||Shared dissemination||n/a|
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Wray, K.; Soukhaphon, A.; Parlee, B.; D’Souza, A.; Freitas, C.; Heredia, I.; Martin, C.; Oloriz, C.; Proverbs, T.; Spicer, N. Aligning Intentions with Community: Graduate Students Reflect on Collaborative Methodologies with Indigenous Research Partners. Sustainability 2020, 12, 7534. https://doi.org/10.3390/su12187534
Wray K, Soukhaphon A, Parlee B, D’Souza A, Freitas C, Heredia I, Martin C, Oloriz C, Proverbs T, Spicer N. Aligning Intentions with Community: Graduate Students Reflect on Collaborative Methodologies with Indigenous Research Partners. Sustainability. 2020; 12(18):7534. https://doi.org/10.3390/su12187534Chicago/Turabian Style
Wray, Kristine, Akarath Soukhaphon, Brenda Parlee, Amabel D’Souza, Carolina Freitas, Iria Heredia, Chelsea Martin, Carrie Oloriz, Tracey Proverbs, and Neal Spicer. 2020. "Aligning Intentions with Community: Graduate Students Reflect on Collaborative Methodologies with Indigenous Research Partners" Sustainability 12, no. 18: 7534. https://doi.org/10.3390/su12187534