Fieldwork research

Villa Schifanoia, EUI, 7 May 2019

Carrying out social research in risky contexts is becoming a highly pertinent issue requiring urgent responses. The Middle East Directions (MEDirections) Programme, together with the Scuola Superiore Sant’Annaand the Scuola Normale Superiore, has set out to analyse the emerging trends and challenges in carrying out such research, and how they affect knowledge production.

It is important for scholars, researchers and policymakers alike to understand new trends and dynamics in the field to be able to rethink old paradigms and design new ones that lend themselves better to interpreting the ever-evolving situation on the ground. At the same time, there is a need to safeguard researchers’ wellbeing and security, and to protect informants.  

As an initial response, the MEDirections Programme in collaboration with Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna and the Scuola Normale Superiore began discussions on the topic in January 2017. In 2018 and 2019, they organised  two workshops (see below) aimed at sharing best practices and developing constructive proposals to offer solutions to this common dilemma.

Francesco STRAZZARI, Associate professor, Institute of Law, Politics and Development, Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna:

“We are now facing a paradox: on the one hand, the entire world of research is expected to deliver frontier research, to break new groundwork and to be able to be innovative, to get close to what is the production of evidence for evidence-based policies, which is often in areas or issues that are sensitive. At the same time, on the other hand, questions regarding replicability and transparency put researchers in a situation where disclosing data, interviews, tracks and so on is becoming more and more complicated.”

Luigi NARBONE, Director of the Middle East Directions programme and Part-time Professor at the School of Transnational Governance, European University Institute:

“Our goal is not to write a cahier de doléances. We have a set of concrete objectives that can realistically be reached through discussions and the sharing of practices: sharing experiences, increasing awareness on constraints and challenges in fieldwork, including ethics, data protection and safety; identifying ways and means to establish common strategies; providing capacity building for researchers.” 


Workshop – Conducting Social Science Research in Risky Environments , January 2018, Villa Schifanoia, EUI

Workshop – Fieldwork Research Challenged: Constraints, Needs and Opportunities, May 2019, Villa Schifanoia, EUI

The document

The attached document ‘Fieldwork research challenged: constraints, needs and opportunities’is the first outcome of these debates. By summarising the background discussion and highlighting the main common understandings, it also offers concrete ideas that can be of use to further progress on this issue. These ideas are divided into following four clusters of action points:

  • Encouraging dialogue and establishing a common approach
  • Sharing best practices and streamlining procedures
  • Promoting training and preparing for fieldwork
  • Raising awareness of the various actors involved

Everyone is invited to READ and SHARE it.

Download the document