Importance of Inclusive Research

By: Yoshi Malaise, Researcher and Teaching Assistant, Vrije Universiteit Brussel  & Evan Cole, Researcher, Vrije Universiteit Brussel

Did you miss a session focused on the Importance of Inclusive Research? Here’s a deep dive of discussions that took place throughout the Migration Summit 2023:

Building a refugee-led research agenda

The main question addressed in this session was “How can we center the narrative on refugees and not on the host country or funding agency?”. One of the more novel questions that popped was how non-refugee led organizations should position themselves in this difficult environment. Trying to place refugees more in control of the research while at the same time, also benefiting from the unjust system that is in place with regards to funding opportunities and trust. Ideally, the process should be gradual, one in which non-refugee led organizations should hand over operations piece by piece. In order to do so, it was noted that proper training opportunities need to be included for the local researchers so they can get input on grant writing and similar activities. One researcher from the global north went as far as to say that if this were to succeed, she would be working herself out of a job.


Further, it was noted that it is essential to train people doing field work on how to handle ethical dilemmas that do not pop up in the paperwork needed to get approval for a field study. By doing this, organizations can work towards a future in which people with lived experience can oversee knowledge production and intervention design, as opposed to the all too often superficial or ad-hoc engagement that’s unfortunately encountered today.

How do we know what works? Research, Measurement and Evaluation

This session was part of the Migration Summit 2022, but it contained important conversations that then extended to this year’s event. The community touched upon one of the key aspects needed in any intervention, the evaluation. It quickly became apparent that there is a need for long term evaluations, not just evaluations at the 6-month mark as are common now with many local NGO’s. Short-term evaluations risk falling into the trap of drawing conclusions from preliminary KPIs without actually reflecting the real impact of the interventions. A more holistic approach would be to do follow-up evaluations one or maybe two years after the intervention. 


Another of the main issues in current practice is the fact that NGOs are often working on short term project funding which does not allow for longer iterations. This is a fundamental concern that needs to be addressed with the funding agencies, it’s often not possible to have the impacts funding agencies are looking for while working on their short timelines. It is also essential to keep in mind the perspective taken when evaluating research. In the context of funders, evaluations might be from the perspective of the host country, and this will lead to different results than if the evaluations was done through the lens of the country of origin or based on cultural/ethnic groups. The main way to combat this is to leave room for open questions in the interview process, and to stay flexible with the order of questions so you can adapt to the situation at hand.



A pitfall noted with this approach is the fact that when surveyed about their larger overall experience, beneficiaries might also expect that help will come in those areas even if it is outside the scope of the current intervention. This is why it is essential to communicate openly and often. On the notion of ethics, it was mentioned that there are already many good systems in place such as ethics boards that make sure that potential damage and risks are mapped out and mitigated before the project starts. Still, more work could be done on making sure that the actual vision and values of the groups are respected. This is something that still manages to slip through the cracks of most ethical review committees.

Localizing research with refugees: An ethical way forward

This session began by sketching out an overview of the landscape, identifying key actors such as humanitarian organizations, academic partners, local governments, and refugee led research organizations (RLOs) working in the field. One of the main pain points that was raised during the session was the lack of trust in local RLOs. 

There is a clear plea from local researcher-led organizations to trust in their experience and existing networks. There is still a need for capacity strengthening but very often local capacity has already been built throughout many years of collaboration and shared experiences that too often get ignored by traditional funding agencies. Displaced people have the capacity to speak for themselves, without  need of external individuals coming in to speak for them. 



As part of the first steps in the right direction, the session host, Samuel Hall, presented its Ethical and Collaborative Research manifesto.

Participatory Research-Practice Partnerships

During the session on Participatory Research-Practice Partnerships, an introduction was given on how to set-up and execute research -practice partnerships in individuals’ and organizations’ own domain. This workshop opened the floor for participants to share their learnings, challenges, interests and experiences to build connections and identify ways to collaborate with each-other. At the end of the session participants had the opportunity to share their contact details to start groups of like minded organizations of which we will hopefully hear more in future occasions

Panel on Research with Refugees and Displaced Populations

The final event in the research track was a panel session in which researchers on a wide variety of topics got the opportunity to share their experiences about doing research with refugees and displaced populations. The session was guided by questions from the audience, and covered topics such as how to properly communicate with the target audience, how to minimize potential harm and always safeguard refugees and what are additional practical considerations that need to be reflected before starting research with vulnerable groups. 


Topics such as how to give the decision power back to the people with lived experiences, how to properly value all input and how to position work formed topics of interest from the audience. Finally, it was noted amongst the researchers that there is a major challenge in trying to guarantee which parts of the research stands once funding for scientific intervention runs out. A more holistic approach that ensures long term follow-ups that encourage systematic work beyond data extractions is mostly needed.