Methodology and research methods in humanitarian studies

  • Course description

    The objective of the course is to introduce students to research methods of social science applicable in both academic study of humanitarian action and the practice thereof. Skills and knowledge obtained during this course should in particular be useful in designing and conducting evaluation studies of humanitarian intervention, completing need assessments in the field, analysing policy objectives, and collaborating with specialised research agencies.
    As designing and conducting empirical research requires both knowledge and skill, the main principle of the course is to combine theoretical discussion of research methodology with practical training involving both fieldwork and data analysis. To that end students will be asked to participate in research exercises and conduct a research project of their own.
  • Main themes

    • Research design
    • Doing interviews: structured interviews and in-depth interviews
    • Sampling
    • Analysing quantitative data: survey data, using official data, big data and GIS in humanitarian research
    • Ethical and political concerns in humanitarian research
    • Analysing qualitative data: grounded approach, structured and mixed approaches
    • Observing
    • Content analysis
    • Applying research tools: evaluation studies and need assessments
  • Learning outcomes

    Has developed specialised knowledge and a critical understanding of research methods appropriate for the humanitarian field. 

    • Has demonstrated the ability to identify and justify research methods that are 
ethically appropriate for scientific research in the humanitarian work field.
    • Has demonstrated the ability to implement research methods for humanitarian 
research in a controlled setting. 

    • Has developed the capacity to reflect on the use of a method and the knowledge gained thereof in terms of ethical aspects and the researcher's position.
    • Has studied a research topic in depth with an application of relevant methodology, learns from past experiences in order to be prepared for a bigger humanitarian research
  • Teaching and learning methodology

    The course focuses on research techniques (sets of activities aimed at producing knowledge of a particular type) rather than on particular topics in humanitarian research or possible applications of research techniques (such as need assessments, policy studies, evaluation studies etc). It is also assumed that full production cycle of a research study - from conceptualisation stage to writing up of results is simulated during the course. This design aims to provide optimal learning environment for student groups whose prior knowledge of research methodologies varies, and to ensure that the steep learning curve needed for obtaining learning outcomes is indeed accomplished.

    The same objectives are served by diverse teaching methods including short presentations by the lecturer, individual assignments for students, and different forms of group work. Extensive use is made of Blackboard learning environment and other IT tools allowing for collaborative learning. A standard textbook of research methods in social sciences is used as a reference, along with supplementary reading material addressing specific issues in humanitarian research.
    The course consists of 15 classes (tutorials) which can be roughly divided into 4 categories. The first is theoretical. Classes within this group are devoted to discussion of basic issues in research methodology of social sciences, such as different research designs, sampling strategies, and ethical questions. Three classes of this type are conducted during the course.

    The second component focuses on specific techniques of humanitarian research: doing interviews, collecting official data, observing, performing content analysis. Within this component every class will be devoted to discussion of one research technique. For the sake of practical training, during each class students will be asked to collaboratively prepare a research tool and then use it outside of the classroom in a short research exercise. Five classes of this type are conducted.
    The third component of the course is devoted to analysis and interpretation of empirical data gathered during exercises in the second component or obtained in a different way. This includes both qualitative and quantitative analysis. During classes of this type, apart from reading assignments and in-class discussions, students will be expected to perform certain analytical activities and write a short paper (approx 300 words) interpreting the results. Five classes of this type are conducted.
    The fourth component is devoted to choice of research techniques for given purposes and their typical limitations. Two classes of this type are conducted.
  • Assessment methods and criteria

    Activity during class - 20%
    Research exercises - 6*8% = 48%
    Final research project - 32%
    Activity during class:
    Quality and quantity of contribution during class discussions and activities
    Research exercises:
    Quality of individual work, quality of collaboration with others, time discipline
    Final research project:
    Quality of individual work, quality of collaboration with others, time discipline

Last updated: 15 November 2016

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