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Exercising Contributions to Research

Over the past couple of weeks, I pondered with the idea around how we really contribute as researchers in and from our contexts. What do we really contribute, and how does this unfold based on our dependence on funding structures or independence to shape the futures that matter in our context? What have we missed as researchers from LMIC countries, and how can we rise above our existing practices to be active in spaces we either struggle to have a voice in or that dictate the future of knowledge production in our contexts.

I identify with 3 keys lessons and hard experiences from myself, and many emerging researchers.

Becoming critical using new approaches: When I think of this particular aspect, I imagine the challenge of research writing - whether for publication or writing up a thesis. The biggest challenge many students face is doubting their ability to think critically or make a contribution. This is common, and has probably grown more now since the advent of the Internet and now AI, typically characterised by information overload. These advances in technology open up opportunities for progressive research, but also close opportunities to be creative, and learn by error (or from not being as creative). On the other hand, as research supervisors, teaching someone to be critical, in contexts with a colonial history of suppression, is super hard. At times we need to exercise patience in applying a humanising pedagogy to research development of students - who need to develop their own voice in the research process. Creativity continues to be stifled, as 'one way' of writing indoctrinated by disciplines dictates the success of a publication. In information systems (IS), the methodology section and findings analysis have to show a ‘clear’ alignment - however, sometimes the meaning of ‘clear’ is also subjective, depending on who is reviewing your work. I have observed how some IS researchers, especially ICT4D are more and more exploring other philosophical approaches, applying a critical approach. I always look forward to reading those papers. However, some reviewers still question clarity in methodologies using critical approaches - because it is not typically used in the field. This is when you need to venture into writing with other disciplines, exploring new ways of ‘knowing’, to justify the relevance of the approach you have chosen for your research context.

Learn by reviewing: Sometimes we do not learn from our mistakes, but rather from the mistakes of others - yes yes, mistakes. Strangely, reading someone else’s work can highlight your own mistakes, as you now read as a reviewer with a different lens. Reviewing a journal or conference paper is a voluntary exercise - but think about the amazing trends in research and writing that you can learn from, from a variety of regions globally. Furthermore, reviewing provides you with the opportunity to observe how people from diverse disciplines write. As a reviewer and editor for journals, I have always found it useful to also read through other reviews, to identify key pointers in writing papers, and improve on my own reviewing practice overtime. What I have learned has also proven valuable to the students I supervise, and led to some successful publications. Being a reviewer also requires you learn to have an open mind as you interrogate a perspective of understanding ontologies. It does not require forcing your view on ‘one way’ of writing, which you may have learned as a unidisciplinary researcher. Rather, it requires you to open your mind to discovering new approaches to research, new voices attempting to be heard, and new ways of ‘knowing’.

You are only as good as you allow yourself to be measured against: it is not uncommon for me to be assessed the moment I step into a space - from being mistaken for being a student, lost, just starting out without a clue. I am a black female academic - started my career as the first black academic in my previous department, and well now I live in Europe. My career has been surrounded by prejudice from time to time, which unfortunately will be around for a very long time. Because of that, opportunities do not always come easily my way - in fact, when they do I always approach them cautiously because of previous experiences of crawling through mud in closed/uninvited academic circles. Closed uninvited spaces halt discovery and harbour missed opportunities from valuable contributors in research meetings, workshops, conferences, publications, etc. You can either choose to remain as the abandoned ship on the harbour, or forge your way beyond these spaces to create opportunities that are heard. It’s hard work…really really hard - but worth it in the end, because sometimes someone needs to know from you that there are other ways of doing research, other ways of publishing, and other ways of communicating new knowledge - lest we stay in our old ways going nowhere slowly. If you find a research methodology just does not fit - scrutinise it, discover other methods - but gather the evidence and argument that justifies your approach. If the research method or journal just does not fit what you are trying to share - find another space to justify your approaches.

Continue exploring where your research matters, and how it matters.

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