Building Bridges to Reduce the Gap…

MicrophoneI am going to do something that has never been done before…

… atleast that is what my supervisors tell me!

Am I worried about the consequences?

Not really!

I have reasons to justify what I am about to do…

I am about to bridge the gap between us (researchers) and the research participants.

See, my research is centered on Technology accessibility for blind people.

Of course, I am grossly simplifying 4 years of research into 5 words. In terms of what I am about to do…

…The focus lies in understanding and involving research participants in my research, and not merely “using” them as data sources.

Why do this?

Because I believe that when it comes to understanding their daily life, research participants will tell me many things I need to know – much more than what they tell me within a ”semi-structured” interviews. So if I can interact with them outside the confines of an interviews or case-studies, I could substantially improve my understanding of the technology accessibility issues.

The problem with many research studies is that they consider participants inside a pseudo-natural environment. Within this setup, the participants are likely to have their guard-up, and might not share all the information they might otherwise share in a more natural and self-regulated setting.

Moreover, by limiting interaction with the participants to formal interviews, we tend to restrict the bonding and trust-building (at least that is the mistake I was making). Relationship between a researcher and the participant should not be limited to formal interactions only (unless of course the research is of a sensitive kind, or the research parameters make it necessary for the interaction to be limited, in that case, discretion must be exercised).

Instead, we as researchers should focus on taking interactive steps beyond the initial interviews. While I wouldn’t recommend dinners and house-calls, something can still be done to communicate openly…

…and here is what I am doing…

I am going to communicate with everyone:

  • who I have interviewed,
  • who is interested in, and
  • who is otherwise related to my studies.

This communication will take place through broadcasts to an email list

Last week, I compiled this list – 16 people as of now (if you are interested in my research, feel free to email me at neesac@utu.fi, I can add you to the list!)

I will be sending regular updates (every 3 months) to all the people on this email list. Everyone on this list (at least verbally) has consented to know more about how my research progresses (it is important that spam compliance is in place). In fact, many of the participants who have already been interviewed wish to provide further assistance!

Communicating with research participants (and interested parties) through an email list has been unheard of within the academic community (so I am told). By opening up these channels, I wish to keep participants interested in my research, so I can get their feedback and ask them questions to improve my research outcomes (after all, the research will affect them directly!)

Maintaining a list will also take less time and effort than mailing everyone personally! Yet with a well-worded email, I can create a semblance of exclusivity! (At no point will the participants’ details be shared!)

Emailing regularly has many benefits. It will

  • Allow me to stay accountable,
  • Stay up-to-date with my research plan, and
  • Keep interested parties informed

This format of communication will also help me in getting valuable and timely insight from participants who I have interviewed before (and perhaps strengthening of bonds through trust-building exercise)

I aim to keep the language in the emails semi-formal and non-technical in nature. The format of the emails will be suited to both staff members at the Turku School of Economics and others who are not directly involved in academia.

So, tell me…

…have you ever tried to communicate with your research participants and talked with them regularly about your research? Did you have good or bad experiences?

I would like to know what you think about communicating with participants regularly through email…so please comment below! Have you ever tried to bridge the gap in this manner (have you tried any other means?)

If you would also like to try out something like this, I would be happy to advise.

To me – my research is more that just what ’I’ do, and it is my hope that with this idea, I can successfully affect lives of people beyond my immediate research team.

P.S: While this is not an advertisement for my email list, if you wish to learn more about my research and stay in touch, you can sign up here:

http://eepurl.com/vhwJD

Everyone is welcome!

The list will be built and managed using Mailchimp, and as previously mentioned, I will not spam 🙂 You can unsubscribe to the list using links within the emails I send. 

Final words: Your thoughts on this matter are welcome!

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