In a conversation with Judyannet Muchiri, the Inter Council Network’s Policy Officer, we asked her some questions to learn more about the research project ‘Feminist, Anti-Racist and Decolonial Approaches to Public Engagement.’ We delve into the methodology of the research, the timeliness and importance of it, the implications of using participatory action research, and what’s next.
We have discussed the importance of highlighting the context of our participants, and that is something we are planning to do as we release the findings of the research project. But before that, can you tell us a little bit about your context and positionality?
Certainly! It is important to acknowledge our standpoint particularly when engaging in a research project such as this. Our positionality influences how we approach the research topic, the questions that we ask, how we ask them and the research process itself. I like to think of myself as someone who has been – and continues to be – shaped by diverse experiences, geographies and histories. I am also a person of considerable privilege, and it is important to acknowledge what this privilege affords me in terms of access and opportunities but also how it shapes my biases particularly in the context of a research such as this. I approach any work I do including this research project as part of an ongoing broader project that seeks to conceptualize and experiment with different processes and mechanisms of social justice. At a personal level, it was very important to create a space that could hold a diversity of experiences, knowledges, geographies, histories and aspirations. A space that could gather us as researchers and where we could gather each other as we delved deep into discussions around structural change. It was an honour to be in community with the other researchers throughout this process.
About the research:
More about this research. Let’s start with, “Why this? Why now?”
Lately, we have seen an increased interest in decolonial, anti-racist and feminist concepts in the international cooperation sector. This has resulted in hyper-visible discourses, initiatives, projects and efforts around anti-racism and decolonization within the sector. Since racialized groups and other marginalized groups have been heavily invested in this work, it is fundamentally important that these efforts we are witnessing now be accompanied by robust reflexivity. Such mechanisms would preempt attempts to co-opt, make invisible, or even erase existing decolonial, feminist and anti-racist work within the sector. As such, this research is timely and a good starting point to reflect on the sector’s colonial roots and the decolonial and anti-racist commitments coming from the sector.
How did you choose the methodology? Did that inform who the participants were? How?
First, we have to acknowledge that research projects, such as this one, that aim for structural change require more time and resources. Importantly, the method itself is a critical part of the project – we wanted our methods to reflect these very concepts that we were exploring. We therefore approached the method, right from the recruitment process, as a site of decolonial, anti-racist and feminist action. We wanted to gather a group of researchers who would bring their knowledges and lived experiences to the research process. It was important as well to bring together people who have different experiences with colonial and racist systems. With the understanding that all inequalities are interconnected, a nuanced approach to the interaction of colonial and racist systems and other systems of subordination is critical in imagining alternative futures. Therefore, it was crucial for potential researchers to be involved in social justice issues in their respective countries and to be well versed in either decolonial, anti-racist or feminist approaches to public engagement. This would provide a good foundation for exploring these concepts. The thirteen researchers that we ended up with were recruited from a group of over fifty people who responded to an open call for participants. The researchers from Canada, Peru, Haiti, Spain, Ecuador, Bolivia, Kenya, DRC, Burkina Faso, and Dominican Republic form a community that not only embodies these concepts but also brings a lot of trust and honesty enabling us to grapple with – and engage with – difficult questions and conversations.
The research theme is quite enmeshed with the power dynamics at play within the international cooperation sector. How did studying decolonial, anti-racist and feminist principles inform the process and methodology of the research? I imagine it’s not easy to remove the site of study, from the site of action, especially considering the participatory action research methodology?
We want to be very clear that while we aspired to use participatory action research (PAR) methods fully, we were only able to use a form of PAR. To fully adopt participatory methods or indeed decolonial, anti-racist and feminist methods, requires a fundamental shift in power dynamics – a complete overhaul of the system if you will. This is not possible within the current systems and structures that we work with in the international cooperation sector. We are doing the work, but we are not there yet. As such, it is important to be clear about what we could do and what we could not do in the research process. This is part of doing the work. Participatory action methods involve centring researchers, their knowledges and their lived experiences throughout the research process including the design, data generation and analysis and knowledge sharing stages. It involves subverting power dynamics that usually gird these forms of knowledge creation processes. In our research project, we were keen to recognize the organizational procedures and limitations that we had to navigate in order to create a space for participatory methods. So for example, while we had the research topic defined at the organizational level in accordance with the ICN’s strategic directions, we were purposeful in having the researchers themselves map out the key themes they wanted to focus on. We also created space for the researchers to set an agenda for the monthly focus group and facilitate the group discussion. These are just a few of the things we did throughout the research to align our methods with decolonial, anti-racist and feminist principles and practices.
Now that the focus group part of the research is done, what about the analysis excites you?
I am excited to see all this work that we began months ago come together in one big story. I am also excited to trace our growth both in ideas as well as a group from the very first meeting to the final focus group in June. I am also curious and excited to see the main learning pieces that will emerge from the data, and which will, in turn, shape the next phase of knowledge sharing.