by Petra Boynton
10 years ago I published a book called ‘The Research Companion’. It was based on talks and teaching I’d been doing with social scientists and healthcare staff that were supposed to be about the ‘how to’s’ of research (questionnaires, focus groups, ethics approval, publishing etc), but inevitably turned into the practical bits of research you don’t necessarily get taught in standard methods courses. Things like how to stay safe when doing research, managing bullying at work, publishing and presenting for the shy, how to read a paper, addressing inequalities in academia, or getting people to actually take part in your research.
Within the book was a link to a forum, which was excitingly cutting edge at the time. Like most people, the times when I’d struggled with research, writing, analysis and so on wasn’t necessarily when I was at work, but was in the early hours of the morning or over the weekend when I had nobody about to ask for help. A forum provided a round the clock place for people anywhere in the world to ask for help about their research, or share their experience, or link to tools and resources they were finding helpful.
As with so many things social media moved on, the book grew out of date and the forum closed. But the need for research help didn’t go away and increasingly as I began working with people in development, activism and those outside academia I wanted to create somewhere that people could use to talk about research as and when they wanted to that could, perhaps, avoid some of the hierarchies built in to standard university teaching or continued professional development.
Facebook seemed an obvious place to try, with the opportunity of having a closed group where researchers from any country, at any level, working anywhere across the social/health sciences or development could link up. I post resources, job adverts, calls for conferences and fun stuff on a daily basis while other group members ask for advice or share their learning as necessary.
The group is diverse and I hope will stay that way. It’s got people within it from all over the world and I’m especially keen to welcome those who ordinarily aren’t having dedicated academic support where they are based. Group members include students, professors, journalists, retired research enthusiasts, activists, and community workers. Not everyone has, or is working towards, a higher degree. Not everyone is employed or working in/for a university. Many members are carers, parents or have other jobs alongside their research work. We connect via phone or computer with some in the field (including field hospitals) and some, like me, at the kitchen table fitting in posts around the housework and sorting the kids’ packed lunches.
As I’m revising the Research Companion book for a second edition I sometimes ask within the group for people’s thoughts about something I’m working on. Alongside the Facebook group is a blog where I share wider, open resources on research methods and things that will be referred to in the updated text but won’t be explored in depth there. I also archive what’s been shared in the Facebook group on a monthly basis and put that on the blog so anyone who’s not on Facebook (including in countries where access is limited) can still find and use resources that might help in their work.
All of this is still a work in progress and is very much being led by the communities of diverse people who either call themselves researchers or call what they are doing research.. I’m interested to see what works best, with the overall aim of making research methods interesting, accessible, effective and ethical. Noting that research can be exciting and enjoyable, a total nightmare, or just a job to get on with.
There’s more information about the Facebook group and what people can get from it here
Categories: Digital Sociology