Fieldwork Research During the Covid-19 Pandemic
As a Rotary Peace Fellow an integral part of my journey is to conduct research that will in some way advance peace. The research I am engaging in during the course of my fellowship is to explore the experiences and perceptions of women concerning the digital skills gender divide.
I had big plans for the summer of 2020, engaging in research about the digital divide in Seoul in South Korea and then spending two months in Munich, Germany.
However, like many people around the world, my plans have been waylaid by the Covid-19 pandemic. I was unable to travel to South Korea due to restrictions in both Japan and Korea, and currently, a long-haul flight to Europe does not seem like a wise idea…
Consequently, I can only research remotely. This research style is not easy when attempting to collect any sort of data ‘from the field’, let alone when collecting said data from women with low levels of digital literacy. These levels of digital literacy make it more challenging to engage in remote research, not least because the research participants are more vulnerable online.
Collecting data from the field remotely has required greater communication and connection with organisations I am working with to collect this data. These organisations include those who teach others digital skills and are supporting students to obtain these fundamental skills at a time where so much of the world is moving online. They are organisations, and the individuals who work for them, that are doing wonderful things to support women access basic rights, such as the right to access online information.
I am very fortunate to be in contact with such great people and committed organisations. Without them, my data collection would not be possible and I would have needed change the focus of my research. This change would have felt like a great shame, as it is important work and the Internet is a space for inequality to manifest. The more we can understand about that, the better.
Nevertheless, data collection remotely has not been without its challenges. It is harder to form connections with participants and my expectations for the level of engagement I’ll have with individuals, is more challenging. Still, I have found it possible and I already have some interesting data I think will be useful to digital divide scholarship.
2020 has not gone according to plan, but I like to think that researchers (among many others) in 2020 are pioneers, showing how immersive fieldwork can be conducted remotely online.