Negotiating the ethical-political dimensions of research methods: a key competency in mixed methods, inter- and transdisciplinary, and co-production research
Methods are often thought of as neutral tools that researchers can pick up and use to learn about a reality ‘out there.’ Motivated by growing recognition of complexity, there have been widespread calls to mix methods, both within and across disciplines, to generate richer scientific understandings and more effective policy interventions. However, bringing methods together often reveals their tacit, inherently contestable, and sometimes directly opposing assumptions about reality and how it can and should be known. There are consequently growing efforts to identify the competencies necessary to work with multiple methods effectively.
We identify the ability to recognise and negotiate the ethical-political dimensions of research methods as a key competency in mixed methods, inter- and transdisciplinary, and co-production research, particularly for researchers addressing societal challenges in fields like environment, health and education. We describe these ethical-political dimensions by drawing on our experiences developing an ethics application for a transdisciplinary sustainability science project that brings together the photovoice method and controlled behavioural experiments.
The first dimension is that different methods and methodological approaches generate their own ethical standards guiding interactions between researchers and participants that may contradict each other. The second is that these differing ethical standards are directly linked to the variable effects that methods have in wider society (both in terms of their enactment in the moment and the knowledge generated), raising more political questions about the kinds of realities that researchers are contributing to through their chosen methods.
We identify the practices that helped us—as two researchers using different methodological approaches—to productively explore these dimensions and enrich our collaborative work. We conclude with pointers for evaluating the ethical-political rigour of mixed methods, inter- and transdisciplinary, and co-production research, and discuss how such rigour might be supported in research projects, graduate training programmes and research organisations.
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