Reflecting on The Role of Diaries in Collaborative Action Research Opportunities and Challenges
There is a growing body of literature advocating researchers become more critically reflexive in the research process especially when the research process is qualitative, or action-oriented, in nature (Baxter & Eyles 1999, Davies 1999, England 1994, Greenwood 2003, Pain 2003, Pollner & Emerson 2001, Punch 1994, Rose 1997,). “Reflexivity can simply be defined as viewing the self and data in a critical self-detached manner” (Grbich 2004: 71). But the question is how to do this in practice especially when working in a research team.
Denzin and Lincoln (1994: 3) argue that “research is an interactive process shaped by his or her personal history, biography, gender, social class, race and ethnicity, and those of the people in the setting”. Fieldwork is a dialogical process that is structured by both researchers and participants and requires greater reflection by the researcher on these dynamics in order to promote more inclusive methods that are sensitive to the power relations embedded within fieldwork (England 1994). Whilst there have been calls for researchers to reflect more critically on the role of the ‘gate keepers’, ‘key informants’ ‘participants’ and ‘friends’ consulted along the way (Hammersley & Atkinson 1995) there has been little attention to including the reflections of the researchers and gatekeepers on their role and impact on the research process. In order to capture the experiences and enable critical reflections to be made the researchers have kept diaries to provide a record of their experiences of the research process. Research in the field of development is renowned for being inherently complex and rigour is gained through systematic note keeping and recording of information and through feeding the information back into the field for triangulation (Gorard & Taylor 2004, Kincheloe & Berry 2004, Mellor 2001, Zeni 1998). During this project academics and researchers have been requested to keep reflexive field diaries to document conversations, experiences, observations and feelings as part of the research process. This data contributes to the reflective process of the research team and acknowledges the researcher’s subjective positionality on the data collected. Extracts from the diaries and a reflective workbook was used to identity issues which may emerge from research process and also to reflect on the partner’s involvement in supporting the research process. An analysis of these diaries provide the basis of this paper to capture the opportunities and challenges of conducting field work in research teams and to add to the discourse on reflexivity and immersing oneself in the ‘field’. The paper will share the key insights gained and make recommendations for future research.