Why is safeguarding during data collection important?

In this blog Jacob Omondi and Rogers Abala explore safeguarding as part of the ARISE research work.

Muungano Wa Wanavijiji believes safeguarding is an important element to factor in during data collection within the informal settlements. Muungano aims to protect co-researchers from harm. Before embarking on data collection, identified co-researchers undergo rigorous training on safeguarding and are equipped with the knowledge which allows them to adequately respond to emerging risks. One of Muungano’s core principles of safeguarding includes keeping the respondent anonymous upon their request. Co-researchers conducting research involving individuals, have a duty to keep the information they obtain from their research participants confidential. In case of violence or a heightened state of conflict emerging in the community, each co-researcher pauses their data collection activities until peace is restored.

Muungano aims to collect and share information that is essential for advocacy and negotiation with the state and non-state actors. However on some occasions, it may be challenging to obtain information in fragile settlements. Settlements such as Mathare are prone to violence and high levels of crime and in cases of violence, residents take advantage to loot, destroy property and commit other crimes.

One particular case includes a protest that emerged in Mathare Mlango Kubwa, Kiamutesya where youths organized a protest calling for the reinstatement of Kazi Mtaani initiative that was introduced in 2020 by the government of Kenya. This is the national hygiene program that was initiated to cushion the youth from the economic impacts of COVID-19 and reduce the social tensions caused by unemployment. During this particular period, community co-researchers engaged in data collection in the field had to pause their data collection activities as a result of the emerging disruptions.

Additionally, in Mathare 3C and 3B villages, a police crackdown on the sale and production of illicit brew was carried out. Young people protested against this act by the police resulting in chaos. Notably, the sale of the illicit brew provides employment to young people who would otherwise be rendered jobless. The police crackdown chaos disrupted data collection activities in the neighboring Mathare 4B village bringing the process to a halt in a bid to protect the co-researchers and the respondents from harm. Youth are disproportionately more likely to be perpetrators, as well as victims of crime and violence. In the case of such fragile contexts, collecting data may not be possible without placing co-researchers at risk. Co-researchers are thereby taken through a safeguarding training to enable them identify fragile contexts and the effective response strategies.

Figure 1: An ongoing community meeting

Co-researchers are normally selected from their respective communities where data collection is carried out. Community members are tasked to take up data collection as they best understand their communities. This is particularly vital as co-researchers can be instrumental in minimizing wrangles that might arise during a data collection process as they have fostered a relationship with community members and they best understand the community terrains.

During the safeguarding training, Muungano Wa Wanavijiji – through the support of Slum Dwellers International-Kenya – emphasizes protecting individuals participating in the research by allowing respondents to remain anonymous. Co-researchers are encouraged to ask for permission from potential respondents before engaging respondents. Seeking consent allows co-researchers to explain to their key respondents about the key elements of their research and how they will be required to participate and seek their approval to be engaged in the research. Researchers are also made aware of the potential risks they may face as safety in research extends beyond the actual research interactions to also encompass the co-researchers well-being during and after they have exited the field.

Safeguarding during data collection is key as it helps in building a good rapport between the community members and co-researchers aiding to foster trust among the co-researcher and the respondents. Cultivating trust places respondents in a position to easily share information that feeds into a research which is essential in creating a basis for advocacy for development.