Working with communities

How do I ensure I respect the cultural norms and expectations of the communities I work with?

When working with communities it is critical that their cultural norms are respected. Whilst it might be easier to understand the cultural contexts of communities in your own country/region, this becomes more difficult whilst working with communities in other countries. It is not always obvious to foreign researchers what may or may not be acceptable to individuals and communities. For example, should you directly compensate participants for their participation in your project? When is it appropriate the use of chaperones? What questions/topics might cause offence or unease? When are you invading and individual's personal space? It is important to consider how local norms and culture will be taken into account at the early stages of research design so that this is reflected in how you conduct your fieldwork. Cultural considerations are also crucial when you decide how to report and publish your results. 

The Ethox Centre, based at the Nuffield Department of Population Health, feature useful papers on participant-led research and on contextualising consent. Ethox have also produced helpful resources and papers on community engagement, consent etc.

The Global Health Network also provides health-focused resources, though these may be useful to other disciplines. They also provide e-learning resources.

Always seek further guidance regarding local norms and customs that need to be considered and observed during research. If possible, seeking ethical review with a local institution also ensures respect for cultural norms is embedded within your research project.

It is worth being aware that some NGOs also have their own ethics committees which may provide a resource for cultural norms and local appropriateness of research design and conduct.