Becoming an ethical researcher
Becoming an ethical researcher

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Becoming an ethical researcher

1.2 Participatory research

Case study 3.1 Participatory research with girls in Zimbabwe

The Supporting Adolescent Girls’ Education (SAGE) project, in which The Open University is the academic lead, is co-designing an accelerated learning programme and materials, co-supporting community educators and buddy teachers. The community educators facilitate learning sessions for the girls in the Learning Hubs. The buddy teachers form a learning support network with the community educators. The OU is also leading on two participatory research studies which explore the aspirations of out-of-school girls and peer support relationships between community educators and buddy teachers.

The girls will enrol in a two-year programme of accelerated learning in foundational literacy and supporting them in achieving Grade 5 outcomes. On completion of the programme, girls will transition onto clear and supported pathways to further training, income generation or continuation of mainstream education. In addition to improving educational outcomes, SAGE will support adolescent girls having increased self-efficacy and life skills. As a result, the girls and their families will acquire skills and have increased access to financial resources. Through gender sensitisation, communities will adopt more positive gender attitudes and will take action to support and protect girls. The project works with local communities and the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education in ways that will enable communities to sustain their Learning Hubs after the end of the project, and for these Hubs to be recognised within the mainstream education system.

Activity 1 Imagining stakeholder expectations

Timing: Allow approximately 20 minutes

Listen to a short audio by two of the researchers leading the SAGE project.

Download this audio clip.Audio player: ee831_1_s3_act1.mp3
Skip transcript: SAGE project audio

Transcript: SAGE project audio

Hello, welcome. I'm Deborah Cooper, one of the authors of the module. I'm joined here today by Dr. Alison Buckler and Dr. Liz Chamberlain, both from the Open University. They've joined me to talk about how they developed a research project on Zimbabwean girls who've dropped out of school.
Liz, Allison, thank you very much for joining me today. Liz, I'd like to start by asking you how you came to choose this particular topic and why you thought it was important.
Thank you, Deborah. I thought first of all it might be helpful to explain the origins of the research, and how it connects to a broader project that I work on. So I am the Academic Director of a program called SAGE, which stands for Supporting Adolescent Girls' Education. And this is a DFID funded project and DFID is the Department for International Development.
And the project involves five consortium partners, led by an NGO called Plan International. And it's just one of the Open University's International Education Development projects, which is based in Zimbabwe. And I thought it might be helpful just to give you a bit of context around the project.
So we know that there are over 130 million girls who do not go to school. Most of them are in the world's poorest countries. In Zimbabwe, 20.1% of secondary school age girls are not attending school. So the SAGE program, which is based in Zimbabwe, was therefore designed to reach over 16,000 out-of-school girls aged 10 to 19 over a five year period.
And what we hope to do is to engage them with learning in literacy, numeracy and English language learning. The aim of the acquisition of these foundational skills will be for the girls to really benefit and make changes in their everyday lives. For example, girls being able to go to the market to buy and sell produce, and to be able to check their change to make sure that they're getting the right amount of change.
What we know about the girls that we're working with in the program-- they're from the poorest districts of Zimbabwe, and these girls face a number of complex and independent barriers to accessing education, which include gender, age, religion, economic status, ethnicity and disability.
And we also know that girls' limited access to education is underpinned by pervasive gender inequality. This research gives us a unique opportunity to match the program to the girls' needs. We need to know about these particular girls, and one way that we can do this is to involve girls in the research process.
For this small group of 11 girls we worked with, in what we call the SAGE storytelling research through a five day residential workshop. It was important, and possibly the first time that the idea that those girls' ideas and experiences have actually been acted upon.
Thanks, Liz. And Alison, can you tell me more about the importance of this study and who's going to benefit from it, please.
So this is a three year study of a group of 11 girls from across Zimbabwe. And the research is following them as they participate in the SAGE program. We're now one year into the research, and this as a form of a week long storytelling research workshop which focused on the girls' ideas about their future.
A key part of the research was to find out more about the girls' lives, to ensure the program was as appropriately designed as possible. First, as Liz suggested, we wanted to know more about the girls' aspirations, so we can tailor the materials to provide learning experiences that support these aspirations. And therefore help girls on the program move onto pathways that could genuinely lead towards those professions.
And as well as that, we wanted to develop the program so it could expand these aspirations. One of the pro researchers on the team that was leading this research and Dr. Faith Mkwananzi, who's a Zimbabwean academic, has written about the aspiration horizons of young people in sub-Saharan Africa. And she writes about how many young people growing up in poverty are presented with a very narrow horizon of possible opportunities for their future.
I think also we knew that formal school had not worked out for these girls because they had dropped out of school at some point. And so another key focus of the research was to understand more about their experiences with formal schooling and their reasons for dropping out.
And this is really, really important, because it's really crucial that the SAGE program doesn't simply replicate formal school and then just provide another opportunity for girls to feel like life wasn't designed for people like them, or give them another thing that they have to drop out of and be in the same situation they are now but even worse.
And so we know from the literature that exists that the main reason for dropping out of school in Zimbabwe is a lack of money, and SAGE is free to us, and so this is a really good start, but we also knew that school dropout is really complex and nuanced, and it's not just about the money even if that ends up being the final reason given for the girls dropping out of school. Though we designed this research to really understand more about the events that led up to the point at which the girls dropped out.
And then finally, while there's existing research about after school girls in similar contexts that we drew on when we were planning there, we set when we were designing it. We've noticed that much of this research was undertaken within the context of existing education programs. And so what we're really keen to do for this first stage of the research was to engage the girls and meet them, and learn about their lives before they joined SAGE to find out more about their experiences without them feeling like they have to filter these through specific lens of the program goals, or shaping their stories to align with what they thought that we might want to hear.
And we did all that using a storytelling approach that focused on critical moments in their lives where something happened that changed the course of their future, and we asked each girl to tell a story about this critical moment.
Liz, Alison, thanks very much for joining me today.
End transcript: SAGE project audio
SAGE project audio
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).

Thinking about the BERA (2018) set of responsibilities, identify the different stakeholders in this study.

For each stakeholder, imagine what they might expect from the researchers and hence the different obligations the researchers might feel towards them. Drag and drop these to match below.

Using the following two lists, match each numbered item with the correct letter.

  1. Stakeholders

  2. Funder

  3. Partners/co-researchers

  4. National government

  5. Current participants

  6. Future participants

  7. The Zimbabwean education system

  8. The researchers

  9. Other researchers as an academic audience

  • a.Increased educational participation for the whole population, which can lead to greater workforce capacity and economic success for the population.

  • b.Reduction of barriers to attending and participating fully in education and training.

  • c.Increased attendance by girls in schools in ways that can be accommodated by the existing system. This should include advice about what they can continue to do to support this sustainably.

  • d.Value for money, which might be imagined as evidence of increased attendance by girls in school.

  • e.Possible stakeholder expectations of researchers

  • f.Opportunities to get to know the participants and be accepted into the local community. Safety to be afforded to them in local contexts.

  • g.To be included in all aspects of the decision-making.

  • h.Continued support in participating in education and training, leading to increased literacy, numeracy and English language skills, so increasing employability.

  • i.To learn more about the barriers to school participation by girls with a view to understanding how their own research can contribute, without having to replicate the interventions and intrusion on disadvantaged girls’ lives.

The correct answers are:
  • 1 = e
  • 2 = h
  • 3 = i
  • 4 = f
  • 5 = c
  • 6 = a
  • 7 = d
  • 8 = b
  • 9 = g


It is clear that researchers have multiple responsibilities and that these might lead to tensions and competing obligations. Later in this course you will have a chance to think about how to navigate a virtuous path through these obligations.

Dealing with competing accountabilities is something organisational leaders incorporate into their everyday work. They are responsible to the employees in their setting, to their clients, to their shareholders and to the wider associations within which the organisation holds membership.


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