Research

Supporting African researchers

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Research Questions

Below we provide a list of potential research questions for researchers who are thinking about doing research and getting it published. This list will be updated regularly.

  • Developing a framework or model for African environmental or ecological social work?
  • Developing a framework or model for African spiritual social work
  • Developing a framework or model for medical social work in Africa
  • Social work with African families and communities in the diaspora.
  • Converting orature into written literature for social work.

Research Methods

Below we provide research methods that are appropriate to the African situation.

Research designs

African research methodology (ARM) – valuing African techniques, activities etc. Khupe and Keane (2017) have a good summary of this design in the table.

Cite as: Khupe, C. & Keane, M. (2017). Towards an African Education Research Methodology: Decolonising New Knowledge. Educational Research for Social Change. 6. 25-37.

Indigenous research methodology (IRM) – valuing indigenous techniques, activities etc. Chilisa et al (2017) and have a very good example of IRM, the Indigenous Research Framework.

Cite as: Chilisa, B., Major, T. & Khudu-Petersen, K. (2017). Community engagement with a postcolonial, African-based relational paradigm. Qualitative Research. 17. (3), 326-339. 10.1177/1468794117696176.

Diverse methods of research, methods of understanding and analysis, are already there in our respective Indigenous cultures. It’s now for us to recognise them, to name them, and articulate them in a language that others can understand.

Chilisa, B. (2014). Indigenous research is a journey. The International Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community Work, , no. 2, pp. 41-44.

Broad approaches

Ubuntu research approach (URA) – applying ubuntu principles when researching including using Ubuntu philosophy, knowledge, theories, ethics and techniques. For African research, this is the overarching approach.

Community-centred approach – focus on families and communities instead of individuals.

Sankofa methodology – “It’s not taboo to go back to the source and fetch what you forgot” (Bangura, p. 175). Sankofa is about learning from the past, the past meaning African culture, history, philosophies and identity. In order to “move forward into the future, they need to reach back into their past and take with them all that works and is positive” (p. 175). (Bangura, A. K. (2011). African-Centered Research Methodologies: From Ancient Times to the Present. San Diego: Cognella.

Collective research approach – researching with people and communities and not researching them. This includes planning the research together (co-planning), co-analysis and co-publishing.

Cultural safety approach (CSA) – research that do not devalue people’s cultures.

African-centred or Afrocentric research – this is research that address the needs, problems, aspirations and research questions of Africa and not those perceived by people from outside the continent (Bangura, 2011).

Empowerment or capability research approach – acknowledging power and capacity in people and building the capacity of communities to research themselves instead of being researched by outsiders.

Responsible research approach (RRA) – no researching and over researching the poor, powerless and vulnerable in society but researching those with power and authority.

Developmental research (DR) – research that has an intention of improving the lives of people or community in the short and long term or research that has an immediate impact on the problems or challenges communities are currently facing. This is different from research that is done for the benefit of the researcher or funder or another community.

Household, Family of Community Oriented Research (HOFACOR) – doing research that does not have individuals as units of analysis but rather households, families and community. This aligns with Ubuntu values of seeing the individual through their family or community. This research avoids individuality.

Participatory Action Research (PAR) – Participatory research as “an emancipatory approach to knowledge production and utilization” (Mulenga, 1994:29). It is about involving households, families and communities (participants) in research that is part of their development. Participants identify and define the problem and contribute in ALL stages of the research process (Mulenga, 1994). Maguire and Mulenga (1994) said the main characteristics of participatory research are (1) involves the people themselves as researchers as they seek solutions to the problems which confront them in their daily struggle for survival (2) offers a way for researchers and oppressed people to join in solidarity and (3) to take collective action, both short and long term, for radical social change (4) It combines three activities, namely, research, education and action.

Relational research approach or paradigm: research that focuses on and values relationships or connections instead of looking at things and properties as existing in isolation (Chilisa, 2019). These will be relationships between people being studied but also between the people and the researcher.

Methods for ethical research

Decolonial Approach (DA) – taking an active role to remove colonial approaches, language etc. This approach argues that ethics are not one size fits all, western ethics are not all applicable in Africa and vice versa. Western ethics are based on western philosophy and African ethics should be based on African philosophy.

Local Ethics Approach (LEA) – use local ethics in all stages of the research process and getting local ethics approval including at family, community, Country and national level. This means that the researcher identifies ethical issues with their research communicate these at the levels their research qualifies together with a description of their research so that further ethical issues are identified. When all issues are ironed out, ethics approval is then provided. This is not the same as permission or consent.

The total agreement technique (TTAT) – this technique ensures that all people in the research are in agreement with what has been proposed and what will be done as follows (1) permission to do the researcher or to be involved or associated has been granted by all those responsible, not just the university or organisation (2) ethics have been noted, discussed, resolved and agreed (3) consent from participants has been obtained in the preferred way – verbal, witnessed or written (4) agreement on data, results and what has to be published and how

Non-verbal consent (NVC) – consent does not need to be written, writing down and issuing forms is intimidating and takes away continuous negotiation which is valued in African society. Ethics do not exits on forms, it is human beings that should be ethical. Alternative forms or NVCs include oral consent where someone says they are giving consent or witnessed consent, where they say it in the presence or one or more people.

Local language approach (LLA) – use local languages in all stages of the research process and not using language participants do not understand

Munyai approach – when you approach communities, use an intermediary. The intermediary can be an individual, a community leader, an elder, a family, a griot or an organization.

The San Method – In the San Code of Ethics (South African San Institute (SAAI, 2017), community has a key role. The code emphasizes respect, honest, care, justice and co-production of knowledge. The San method says there should be clear communication in understandable not academic scientific language, show San people reports before publication, align your research to local needs, and not stealing knowledge.

The San Method – In the San Code of Ethics (South African San Institute (SAAI, 2017), community has a key role. The code emphasizes respect, honest, care, justice and co-production of knowledge. The San method says there should be clear communication in understandable not academic scientific language, show San people reports before publication, align your research to local needs, and not stealing knowledge.

Scared places and spaces approach – as a researcher know and respect spaces, places and artifacts of cultural and spiritual significance

Methods for data collection

Experiential method – using your own experience as a data source
Auto-ethnographic method – same as above
Dare or Indaba method – collecting data from a medium sized group (dare, about 8 people) or large group about 16 people. Each person has an equal chance to participate
Insider research method – a person who knows the community or respondents plans the research and collects data from them instead of a person who does not know about them
Side-by-side approach or collaborative research – this is about working side by side with participants to identify research gaps, creating methods and collecting data.
Narrative approach – participants are given a chance to narrate of tell their stories instead of being asked a series of questions (Chilisa, 2019)

Griot approach – a griot is a historian, storyteller, praise singer, poet, or musician. He or she is an oral moving library. They can be a source of different information all useful for research (Bangura, 2011).

Community projects – designing a project that benefits the community while you research.

Stories Approach – participants are given a chance to narrate of tell their stories instead of being asked a series of question.

Dialogue Approach – conversation between the researcher and participant/s.

Action Research – research that contributes to development instantly.

Methods for literature review

Orature Approach (OA) – knowing that in Africa oral literature is the majority and using it in research including literature reviews and findings discussions (Chilisa, 2019).

Decolonised Literature Approach (DLA) – the approach says if you use colonial literature to try to understand situations, then that is a flawed process. The narrative below by Professor Bagele Chilisa, who writes on indigenous research is very informative.

One of the first research projects I was involved in was on the impact of HIV/AIDS on the education system. I found myself doing research partnered with some people from the UK who were providing the funds. The person who called himself the ‘principal investigator’ came up with a review of literature. This review of literature was about how the pandemic was getting worse because according to the report, the Batswana love sex and so on and so on. It had all the stereotypes you could imagine. I said to him, ‘Oh my god, I’m a part of this research and people are going to read this’. I said, ‘When you are talking about “Botswana”, you are talking about me. All these stereotypes you are citing from the literature, it’s about me, I can’t possibly write about myself in that manner’. In response he said, ‘No, no, no … this is what is in the literature. We are going to cite verbatim from the literature. We cannot ignore the literature’. This was my starting point. I saw how mainstream Western research was describing us in Botswana, how the problem of HIV/AIDS was being portrayed. From that day on, I said to myself, there has to be other ways of doing research! I started thinking hard about how I could be involved in research that would describe people in a manner that they would recognise themselves.

Chilisa, B., (2019), Decolonising research: An interview. The International Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community Work, (1), 12-17.

Methods for data analysis

Side-by-side approach – working with participants to analyse data (co-analysis)

Theory-building approach – this approach is about doing research with the intention of coming up with a theory. Sometimes called the grounded-theory approach.

Methods for achieving ‘reliability’ and ‘validity’

‘Validity’ and ‘reliability’ are western concepts. In African centred-research, they are acheived in several ways. Reviere’s African-centred procedure of achieving ‘validity’ or ‘reliability’ includes these has five elements (Reviere, 2001, p. 725): ukweli, utlulivu, uhaki, ujarnaa and kujitoa. Chilisa described these elements as follows “Ukweli is loosely translated from the original Swahili as “truth.” For the purposes of this article, it refers to the groundedness of research in the experiences of the community being researched. The experiences of community members become the ultimate authority in determining what is true and therefore become the final arbiter of the validity of research about their lives. Utulivu is loosely translated from the original Swahili as “justice.” It requires that the researcher actively avoid creating, exaggerating, or sustaining divisions between or within communities but rather strive to create harmonious relationships between and within these groups. Uhaki is loosely translated from the original Swahili as “harmony.” It requires a research procedure that is fair to all participants, especially to those being researched, and one whose applications are mindful of the welfare of all the participants. Ujarnaa is loosely translated from the original Swahili as “community.” It requires that the researcher reject the researcher/participant separation and not presume to be “the well from which spring theory and practice, whole and well-formed,” but that theory and practice should be informed by the actual and aspired interests of the community. Kujitoa is loosely translated from the original Swahili as “commitment.” It requires that the researcher emphasize considerations of how knowledge is structured and used over the need for dispassion and objectivity” (Chilisa, 2014).

Chilisa, B. (2014). Indigenous research is a journey. The International Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community Work, , no. 2, pp. 41-44.

Reviere, R. (2001). Toward an Afrocentric research methodology. Journal of Black Studies, 31 (6), 709-727

Methods for research reporting and sharing

Side-by-side approach – working side-by-side with people to report and disseminate findings

Knowledge checking approach/Shared knowledge approach – share reports with knowledge holders, leaders or participants before publication

Methods for research utilisation

Participants-first approach – this means first sharing results with participants so that they make use of them instead of publishing first hoping that they will ready the publications. Sometimes called the localised reporting method.

Policy approach – this means taking results to policy makers or those implementing policy so that research could influence policy.

Benefits approach – do research that has immediate benefits for the community e.g. produces knowledge to address a current or emerging social problem.

Action Research – researching and using the results for developing the community or country at the same.