Researcher, Facilitator, Advocate?

I just talked with a colleague who wants to do some Net-Map research about water governance in a big irrigation project in Africa, where commercial interests and small farmer needs clash. She has a number of different goals with her research, ranging from “getting a PhD” through “doing high quality exciting research” to “facilitating a debate about power” and “empowering the poorer stakeholders”.

And while it is possible to do all these things with a tool like Net-Map, it made me think about the messy situations we often get ourselves into, trying to be a good researcher and a good person at the same time. How do you deal with the tensions between “wanting to find out” and “wanting to change things / wanting to help”?

3 Responses

  1. Eva,
    i really enjoy this site and have draw upon it in a class I just completed.

    You ask: How do you deal with the tensions between “wanting to find out” and “wanting to change things / wanting to help”?

    I have struggled with this throughout my career, one which has combined extension and research — and now teaching.
    I think one begins by understanding and appreciating the difference, but in most cases, it comes down to a question of values. For me, most of the time I choose change/help. Some of my colleagues, most of the time, choose wanting to find out. In theory they are often compatible, but in practice I have found that they are often not. I chose to privilege my practice. Research is a great tool and aid for me, but not an end in itself.

  2. Dear Betty,
    Thanks for sharing your experience. It resonates with my experience and what I hear from a number of colleagues. But it does make me wonder: Is it something that is inherent in research, that becoming engaged in change clouds your judgment and thus interferes with the ability of being a good researcher? Or is it a flaw of the research community (or parts of it) that draws away a certain kind of people, who could add interesting insights and a specific perspective but get frustrated with having to pretend to be neutral outsiders…

  3. Hi Eva,
    I think a lot depends on what epistemological stance one embraces. In ethnography neutrality is not an issue, or rather, not in the ol’ neopositivist way.
    To me the struggle is more on a concentration and time management level: I’ve found myself incapable of being on the beat both in what I’m doing in my project as a project leader and assuming at the same time the deeply reflective stance needed to carry out good research.
    I hope I’ll be able to conciliate the two as alternating phases of the same cycle.

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