Balancing Rigor and Relationships in Collaborative Research
By Oliver Kaplan, University of Denver
How can researchers partner with diverse kinds of collaborators while simultaneously maintaining rigor and balance? If scholars hew too closely to the advocacy preferences of particular constituencies, their analyses could become perceived as biased. At the same time, researchers must also balance the contributions of diverse stakeholders and guard against merely extracting insights from research partners. The article examines these issues in the context of collaborative research with communities, NGOs, and development agencies, whose preferences may at times diverge from those of researchers. It draws on the author’s field research and policy analysis experiences to explore how to incorporate the viewpoints of various kinds of partners and participants. The article proposes several key questions and decision criteria to consider to tread carefully in these situations, including first prioritizing the voices of the most vulnerable participants. The article concludes that collaborative research can be powerfully activist when it considers the value of researcher independence while directly engaging with the research contributors.