Taking DEIJ Learnings on the Road

June 29, 2023 — by Elizabeth McGee

The 15th Annual NORDP Research Development Conference occurred on May 7-10, 2023, in Arlington, VA,  themed around Growing Connections. Elizabeth McGee led a workshop on incorporating (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, Justice) DEIJ Practices — which include acknowledging bias, identities, lived experiences and assumptions—into research to avoid perpetuating inequalities in education, and healthcare, among others. 

DEIJ is most effective when….

It is considered from the onset of research projects. Whereas DEIJ practices or strategies that are done as “add-ons” run the risk of simply being performative and ineffective (at best) or damaging (at worst). Research Development professionals play a critical role by bringing DEIJ into research projects, given their involvement in research proposal writing and drafting evaluation frameworks. This workshop provided Research Development professionals with skills to think critically and practically through DEIJ considerations.  

Engaging with DEIJ is not always about having the right answer…

It’s about asking the right questions to guide research. For example: 

  • How are marginalized populations directly involved in this research? 
  • How are they being indirectly impacted by this research? 

It is essential to prioritize community challenges, needs, and strengths throughout the entire research process. Build flexibility in the research to accommodate changing community priorities. We, as researchers, must jointly develop our research proposals with the community.  Researchers should not only consider their own desired outcomes but also the outcomes that the community hopes to gain from the research, whether directly (DEIJ Practices) tied to the research or an unrelated need fulfilled. 

We must expand on traditional notions of research expertise and experience

We can challenge the constructs of professional practice that create a false urgency around meeting proposal timelines and outcomes. Compensation is a key way to value people and communities. We also need to apply a harm-reduction approach that considers both past research harm and harm our project may cause. Instead, incorporate healing practices into our processes. 

We must acknowledge that data collection is a withdrawal and a cost to the community…

Especially when asking for data from community members with unmet basic needs. Overly narrow data collection methods minimize the complexity of community experience and places researcher needs over community needs. The process of data collection gives community time and resources to the researcher. It can stir up past harm or trauma.  Take care to not overburden communities and use trauma-informed practices to avoid data inquiries that are insensitive, triggering, or retraumatizing.  Moreover, biased data and analysis can paint incorrect and potentially damaging pictures of communities, which can cause harm if future interventions are predicated on this work.

Qualitative data collection methods provide richer context…

This better captures and contextualizes the community experience, rather than removing everything not strictly related to research goals. Engage in conversation and genuine relationship-building to understand this context and involve the community in analysis and recommendation development. This will better communicate the nuances of the community experience to consumers of your research.

When the researcher-subject relationship ends before report completion…

People feel used and dehumanized, reinforcing the paradigm of researcher and subject. When researchers do not discuss how research findings will be available to the community, they control the production of collateral materials with little community input. 

Engage in participatory data collection strategies… 

This way, community data, insights, and perspectives are co-owned by the researcher and community. This means ensuring that the community understands the project results and how the report will be used. Relinquish control over narrative reporting and give community ownership over their own story. Provide a turnaround time of project findings that makes sense given community needs for data. Set this timeframe at the onset of the research with community input. 

Support sustained community impact post-project… 

This allows community members to offer feedback on the research process. Really listen to what the community says without treating as sacred the traditional notions of project completion and success. Ensure research findings are available in a format, language, and location that is accessible to the community. Provide ongoing updates about the availability of research findings, and keep them available after the project ends for community members to voice questions and concerns.  Research publications are expensive and not accessible to those who are not professional researchers.  Be proactive in providing access to the community. 

Positively, funding bodies are starting to value DEIJ efforts…

It takes courage to push the status quo, but it is the way that our research practices can contribute to a more fair world. Connect with other researchers doing DEIJ and harm-reduction work.