What does “decolonizing” research mean, and why is it important?

Published: quarta-feira 8th maio 2024
Category: Blog
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Photo credit: Markus Winkler via Unsplash

“Decolonizing research means centering concerns and world views of non-Western individuals, and respectfully knowing and understanding theory and research from previously “Other(ed)” perspectives.” From International Journal of Qualitative Methods Decolonizing Methodologies in Qualitative Research: Creating Spaces for Transformative Praxis

At Research4Life we have strived to foster equity and inclusion in the academic and research landscape, through making research accessible for all – as well as training through our partnerships with organizations such as Information Training & Outreach Centre for Africa (ITOCA) – for over twenty years. Our vison for 2030 is to significantly increase participation of researchers from under-represented countries through research output and participation in decision making, just to mention a few. Promoting equity in research is part and parcel with our work, and we have established an Equity Committee just for this purpose.

One of our objectives is to understand the published research on equity. We also aim to engage with the Research4Life user community to identify and address barriers to representation and inclusion. The important thing to remember about equity in research is that equity means not just who is doing the research, but what they are researching, and how it is being done. In Linda Tuhiwai Smith’s trailblazing 1999 book “Decolonizing Methodologies”, the author explains that to decolonize research is to have “a more critical understanding of the underlying assumptions, motivations and values that inform research practices”. The book’s description explains that the very idea of “research” is in itself, a term loaded with problematic meaning: “To the colonized, the term ‘research’ is conflated with European colonialism; the ways in which academic research has been implicated in the throes of imperialism remains a painful memory.”

Best practices for decolonizing research

The Interdisciplinary Global Development Centre (IGDC), a major interdisciplinary centre for research and partnership for global development based at the University of York, has come up with a great guide with recommendations for researchers on creating inclusive spaces for all. These recommendations may come in handy for anyone who is trying to decolonize their actions and attitudes when working on global teams.

Enable leadership by dismantling traditional social hierarchies

When there is a chance to shine, often researchers from high-income countries get to bask in the accolades, because those individuals often have travel budgets that allow them to present their work at conferences and other events. In addition, what some call “manels” “a term referring to an ’All-Male Panel’, used to highlight the exclusion of women and other marginalized groups as subject-matter experts in events, conferences and other public gathering” don’t just happen due to lack of finances for people, they have deep-seated reasons, such as social currency (speakers know the ‘right’ people) and culturally influenced attributes such as having the confidence to speak. To remedy this, the IDGC recommends several strategies to empower researchers in LMICs:

  • Create visibility: Provide opportunities for these researchers to present their work, enhancing their visibility in academia
  • Inclusive authorship: Ensure that partners from LMICs are not only included in developing and authoring outputs but also have have the opportunity to lead on publications
  • Challenge power hierarchies: Address and challenge existing power dynamics, such as gender, age, race/ethnicity, when forming project team(s) and assigning specific roles
  • Equal partnership: Involve researchers from resource poor countries from the start as equal partners
  • Local collaboration: Consider collaborating with organisations in LMICs as research partners, rather than those led by or managed from high-income countries
  • Skill management: Provide the opportunity to gain both research and project management skills to enhance career development, and consider opportunities for them to assume leadership roles during the project.

Ensuring inclusive projects

Whether you are a part of a university research team or another type of organization devoted to promoting equity, adopting a community-led approach to your projects is essential. The IDGC guide suggests focusing on outputs that contribute positively to the local community, not just aiming for publication in high impact journals.

Understandably, many researchers prioritize publications because it is a yardstick for measuring academic success. However creating a tangible impact on society or local communities often goes unrecognized, and is not easily measured.

Some of the ways that the report advises might enable community impact include:

  • Use accessible formats that can have an impact locally such as videos that can be shared on WhatsApp.
  • Highlight contributions from everyone to ensure that everyone involved is acknowledged.
  • Reflect on your (own) positionality. Considering the significant power dynamics between researchers from high-income countries and LMICs and between other diverse groups can help you anticipate and address inequalities.
  • Share the insights and knowledge gained from LMICs that can be applied to high-income countries. This can foster a two-way exchange of knowledge.

A path to learning

At Research4Life, it is part of our mission to enrich the global research landscape with diverse perspectives and insights from all corners of the world. We wish to work with our UN and publisher partners and others to promote inclusivity from the ground up, from promoting full representation across editorial and society roles, to utilizing our resources to promote community engagement at every touchpoint.

Read more about our goals and our new Equity Committee here.