Gender Action Mainstreaming for Empowerment to Change

advocacyresearch

Advocacy campaigns often need to base themselves on research in order to convince policy makers as well as raise awareness in the affected populations. The best way of collecting this information is generally through well-designed participatory processes and rigorous use of participatory tools.

At the same time the sheer numbers of people involved in order to give sufficient weight to advocacy campaigns create a range of differing perspectives and potential conflicts of interest. This means that research requires both in depth qualitative understanding of differing perspectives in order to avoid simplistic stereotyping and rigorous quantification and analysis in order to minimise domination by vocal vested interests.

Gender inequalities raise particular challenges for all types of research: participatory, quantitative and qualitative.


Advocacy Research : participatory framework

Wherever possible, most research will use an integrated methodology which builds on the complementarities between participatory, quantitative and qualitative methods in order to build on strengths, crosscheck and triangulate the information and avoid the potential limitations of each approach.

Participatory methods should play a central role at all stages from conception, through piloting and refinement to the research proper and then finally dissemination. Using participatory methods as the 'first port of call', has many advantages in terms of rapidity and reliability of collecting many types of qualitative as well as quantitative information, manageability in terms of time and resources and also its potential for contributing to the development process. They are also generally an essential component of research dissemination to those participating in the research, a stage which is commonly ignored and omitted, but essential for accountability and implementation of advocacy goals.

Although any one single research process cannot resolve all the tensions and trade-offs inherent in gender transformation, participatory methods can make a contribution as part of an ongoing multistakeholder learning process to:

•  building up capacities and structures for ongoing representation of poor women and men and other vulnerable people in the policy making process.

•  facilitating direct interaction between powerful stakeholders and poor people in order to break down the barriers of complacency, misinformation and prejudice which are in themselves key causes of poverty.

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Participatory Methods

Participatory methods have their origins in development activism: NGOs and social movements. The main aim is not only knowledge per se, but social change and empowerment wherever possible as a direct result of the research process itself. In particular it seeks to investigate and give voice to those groups in society who are most vulnerable and marginalised in development decision-making and implementation.

The participatory process may involve small focus groups, larger participatory workshops or individual diaries and diagrams which are then collated into a plenary discussion. Participatory research typically uses and adapts diagram tools from farmer-led research, systems analysis and also oral and visual tools from anthropology as well as tools developed by NGOs and participants in the field. In some cases (eg GALS) local people themselves conduct research following initial design of specific tools and training. There has recently been an interest in the use of participatory photography, video and theatre as a means of exploring and disseminated advocacy messages.

At the same time participation also has potential costs as well as benefits for all concerned. Participatory methods are often used badly - failing to collect reliable information and dominated by existing vested interests. In relation to gender there are specific challenges in:

  • going beyond stereotypes
  • opening spaces for women and men to discuss sensitive and potentially conflictual gender issues
  • giving spaces for both women and men from different backgrounds to discuss separately and together
  • negotiating conflicts of interest in analysis
For discussion of participatory methods see Gender Action Learning on this website and PLA Notes.

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Qualitative Methods

Qualitative methods have their origins in the humanities: sociology, anthropology, geography and history. They aim to obtain a holistic understanding of complex realities and processes where questions and hypotheses emerge cumulatively as the investigation progresses.

Qualitative methods:

  • typically focus on compiling a selection of microlevel Case Studies using a combination of informal interviews, participant observation and more recently visual media like photography.
  • questions are broad and open-ended, changing and developing over time to fill in a 'jigsaw' of differing accounts of 'reality', identifying which may be said to be generally 'true' and which are specific and subjective and why.
  • different sampling methods are combined: different purposive sampling techniques, identification of key informants and also 'random encounters'.
  • causality and attribution are directly investigated through questionning as well as qualitative analysis of data. Computer programmes are used to deal systematically with large amounts of data.
  • in-depth qualitative research requires a skilled researcher in the field who engages in a reflexive process of data collection and analysis over a period of time.

Good qualitative research can reveal very powerful messages and illustrative cases which can be used in advocacy campaigns.

Gender issues, and particularly concepts like empowerment and sensitive issues like violence are often seen as best researched using qualitative methods. However this has often led to gender issues being marginalised and relegated to superficial anecdotes rather than fully integrated into 'mainstream' research.

The Forum for Qualitative Research website brings together resources and debates on qualitative methods in English and other European languages.

 

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Quantitative Methods

Advocacy campaigns often require justification through 'rigorous' quantitative information on large numbers of people. Quantitative methods as they are commonly conceived derive from experimental and statistical methods in natural science.

The main concern is with rigorous objective measurement in order to determine the truth or falsehood of particular pre-determined hypotheses.

  • the main focus is on measuring 'how much is happening to how many people'.
  • the main tools are large scale surveys analysed using statistical techniques. Quantitative measurable indicators relevant to the pre-determined hypotheses are identified and combined into questionnaires.
  • questionnaires are then conducted for a random sample or stratified random sample of individuals, often including a control group.
  • causality is assessed through comparison of the incidence of the variables under consideration between main sample and control group and/or the degree to which they co-occur.
  • in large-scale research projects teams are composed of a number of skilled research designers and analysts assisted by teams of local enumerators.

Use of quantitative methods on their own have a tendency to reduce complex issues, including gender issues, to simplistic indicators chosen for ease of measurement, but which may not be the most important or relevant in planning for change.

For easily accessible overviews of the strengths and pitfalls of different statistical techniques see the website for Statsoft For access to many further resources see the quantitative methods, statistics and quantitative database sections on the MathsZone and LearnStatistics.com websites.

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towards an integrated methodology for empowering enquiry

Wherever possible, most gender advocacy research will use an integrated methodology which builds on the complementarities between participatory, qualitative and quantitative methods in order to build on strengths, crosscheck and triangulate the information which is most crucial for addressing the particular research questions concerned and also try to disseminate information in different ways for different audiences in order to ensure, as far as possible, benefits for outcomes for participants.

All impact assessment methodologies, including statistical surveys, informal interviews as well as participatory methods, can be more empowering for those giving their valuable time to answering questions. Empowering Enquiry provides simple guidelines which can underpin any methodology. Questions can be sequenced to:

  • start by clarifying the vision people have
  • celebrate what they have already achieved
  • identify challenges to further progress
  • identify clear concrete strategies for moving further along the road to their vision.

Questionnaires, interviews and participatory meetings can all be designed to contribute to increasing people's understanding of their situation and ways forward as well extracting information without necessarily increasing their length.

A clear and strategic commitment is needed to:
  • ensure inclusion and informed participation of the most vulnerable stakeholders
  • include these stakeholders in those stages in research where participation can be most directly empowering to them. Participation may be more important at the design, analysis and dissemination stages than the actual collection of information itself.

The research process itself aims to contribute to an ongoing multistakeholder learning process through:

•  building up capacities and structures for ongoing representation of poor women and men and other vulnerable people in the policy making process.

•  facilitating direct interaction between powerful stakeholders and poor people in order to break down the barriers of complacency, misinformation and prejudice which are in themselves key causes of gender inequality and poverty.