Opening comments by Micheline Egge Grung, NESH


Minutes by Micheline Egge Grung

Kjetil Tronvoll’s presentation was concentrated on what methodological tools researchers can make use of when confronted with ethical challenges of different kinds.

He argued in favour of a so-called multi-sited ethnography for researchers working in conflict zones, an approach with the aim of capturing the cultural diversity of a conflict. He presented his own experiences and challenges of achieving a balanced or two-sided fieldwork in the Ethiopian-Eritrean conflict.

He described his own approach in achieving information from both sides in the conflict, and how this had given him not only unique insight into but also balanced information on the conflict itself.

Kjetil Tronvoll is a senior researcher, Norwegian Centre for Human Rights.

Astri Suhrke’s presentation dealt with the researcher’s role as “participant” and “voyeur”.

Suhrke argued that researchers must be conscious about what words they use to describe not only informants but also conflicting parties. She also argued that researchers working in and on conflict zones, as concerned scholars, cannot and should not remain neutral parties, but should give voice to the powerless. Astri

Suhrke is a senior researcher at Chr. Michelsen Institute, Norway.

The point of departure for Morten Bøås’ presentation was the researcher’s responsibility for informants and fields assistants in conflict areas.

Morten Bøås has experience from field research in several countries in West-Africa. He argued that researchers have a duty not to make the lives of informants and field assistants even worse by inviting them to participate in research projects.

One danger in this respect is if the researcher “falls in love” with his or her own research project and forgets the consequences of involving people. On the other hand, Bøås stressed the importance of research in conflict areas: Often the research is wanted by the local population. Moreover, research allows for alternative stories and is in this respect important for the production of new knowledge.

Morten Bøås is a reseacher at FAFO, Norway.

Elisabeth Wood asked and also explained by her own experience from research in El Salvador how researchers can meet the requirement of “doing no harm” and at the same time carry out good research in conflict areas.

Wood argued that conditions vary in conflict areas and warned that ethical research is possible in some but not all areas.

She also warned that the researcher’s judgment can be influenced by the emotional challenges that may arise when conducting research in a conflict zone.

Elisabeth Wood explained how she was able to meet important research ethical concerns through adaptation to the conditions she encountered: consent was given orally, she took handwritten notes and never used tape, she rarely wrote names down and interspersed her notes. When she met potential informants, she emphasised the voluntariness of participation and carefully explained the purpose of the research project, as she believed that the informants’ understanding of risks were much more informed than her own.

The research findings were published a decade after the study. One reason for this was that she found the data too sensitive to be published at once.

During her presentation, Elisabeth Wood also raised the issues of how to reciprocate one’s informants and the difficult issue of control of dissemination of one’s research results.

Elisabeth Wood is a professor at Yale University, USA.

Wearing different hats and what to do about it was the title of Endre Stiansen’s presentation. Endre Stiansen drew upon his experience both as a researcher and as a facilitator in the peace process in Sudan.

He explained how a researcher can be a resource person in peace negotiations by suggesting solutions to the conflict and also discussed how researchers can use their knowledge proactively in such processes.

Endre Stiansen is a researcher at The International Peace Research Institute in Oslo.

Hilde Henriksen Waage’s presentation concerned the integrity and independence of researchers working in and on conflict zones vis-à-vis research clients.

Waage’s research on the role of Norway in the Middle East gave her privileged access to classified files in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) in 1987. However, she experienced how the access to and use of these files came in conflict with the requirement to openness in the research community. The MFA, which had also funded her research project, refused to declassify the material that she had used in her research project and she could not publish her findings.

However, one year of consultation ended in publication. Waage refused to make any changes in her manuscript as she believed this would be in conflict with her integrity as a researcher.

Waage listed four principles that had helped her:

1) To play by the rules. She had not leaked information to the press and contributed to base her co-operation with the MFA on mutual trust.

2) To produce high-quality research. Her research conclusions were based on solid arguments

3) To establish a network with other researchers. Waage was backed by senior researchers and her own research institution.

4) Not to compromise on one’s integrity as a researcher. Waage made her obligations as a researcher clear and did what she could to protect the independence of her research. Henriksen Waage is a senior researcher and Deputy Director, International Peace Research Institute in Oslo.