Interested in how an international NGO supports research? A couple of weeks ago Oxfam launched a series of online research guidelines, originally intended for its own staff and research partners, but now being made public for the first time. The following is a slightly edited version of a blog post I wrote to accompany the launch. The original is here: http://policy-practice.oxfam.org.uk/blog/2012/11/research-guidelines.
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Do you recognize any of the following situations? You've commissioned an academic, who sends back a draft paper completely different to the one you thought you were asking for. You turn up to interview a farmer and her husband butts in and asks, "What about the promises that the last research team made?" It's Friday afternoon and you're about to go home when the media team tell you that they need killer facts and juicy quotes for next week's press briefing.
If so, then we may be able to help...
This week we're launching a series of guidelines for development workers and researchers who want to brush up their skills and learn more about the practicalities of applied research that are so important but rarely written about and taught. We can't promise to change the behaviour of short-sighted consultants, interfering spouses, and last-minute colleagues, but we can make working with them much easier!
Oxfam's research guidelines provide concise introductions to a wide variety of topics and are oozing with handy tips on how to plan and undertake research and get the most out of different approaches and methods. They're based on first-hand experiences of Oxfam staff working in advocacy, development and humanitarian programmes worldwide. And the good news is that we're now making the fruits of this experience available to everyone - via a dedicated page on Oxfam's Policy & Practice website. You can find it easily at www.oxfam.org.uk/researchguidelines
So how did these guidelines come about?
We've actually been sitting on some of these guidelines for a long time. In 2006, our senior researcher, Kate Raworth, took six months out from writing campaign briefs to explore how research might be best supported across Oxfam. The production of a series of 'how to' guidelines for staff was just one of the positive outcomes of this, together with the beginnings of a programme of research training, and the recognition that building research capacity is a full-time job.
Kate's brainwave (she keeps on having them: read about her latest here) was to realise that there was both an internal demand for research guidelines and that our own staff were the best people to write them. As she recalls thinking at the time:
"[Firstly,] there are loads of books [about research methods] out there, but books aren't accessible to everybody; and secondly, we actually know a lot, people who are doing the research learn a lot and have a lot of really good tips that you don't get in the books, so let's capture that."
We've been distributing the resulting staff-authored guidelines by email and through our intranet ever since. For some time we've wanted to make them even more accessible by posting them on the internet, and the development of our Policy and Practice website has now made this possible. So, with a fresh lick of paint, the self-explanatory titles now available on our research guidelines page are:
This is only the beginning. We've got more guidelines in the pipeline, including some that were originally produced by our monitoring and evaluation folks, and others that we're going to commission and write from scratch (like the guideline on Writing for Impact - which was written by my colleague John Magrath especially for the launch).
Moreover, we'd like to get the guidelines translated into the major languages that we use, and will encourage colleagues to draft new guidelines in their own languages. And we plan to regularly update the guidelines that we've already posted, taking account of users' comments, incorporating new ideas and information, and adding links to research reports and case studies that illustrate their use- so please do let us know if you find them useful and suggest improvements.