COVID-19 raises concerns about technical feasibility and adaptability of many planned and in-progress research projects as conditions change dramatically for both researchers and participants. The pandemic also provides opportunities to engage this disruptive event as a natural experiment or topic of special inquiry in ways some researchers find important. These are valid concerns in academia, but we have found ourselves--particularly as social work researchers--preoccupied by a different set of questions. In this roundtable, we collectively engage ethical and methodological questions amid pandemic. Guided by the questions below, presenters offer unique perspectives from varied subfields at different stages of research design and data collection using diverse qualitative methodologies. In these questions, we seek modes of shared accountability to such considerations throughout our work within our field.
Research Agenda - Where are our questions generated from? So our participants find them to be relevant, reflective of real needs, and respectfully framed? Context - How can our projects be sensitive to changing environments and conditions? What unprecedented measures must be considered and operationalized? Collaboration - How do we give back and engage reciprocally instead of extracting from already burdened communities? How are we involving community perspectives and concerns in the adaptation of existing projects or new data collection? Time and Timing - How can we be considerate of evolving responsibilities and challenges so we do not overburden participants? How do we consider optimal timing for engagement? (e.g., Is summer better for teachers? Are parents less available at different times of day? Are frequent, shorter interviews better than long, focused engagements?) Therapeutic & Sustaining Relationships - How can our interview questions offer respite, healing, reflection, and care? How do we frame our work in ways that answer research questions while respecting the dignity of our participants and acknowledging the magnitude of challenges they may be experiencing? Resources and Policy Change - How do we ensure we can provide participants or organizations with resources they may urgently need? How can we use research to inform and drive needed policy changes? History, advocacy, and values - How do the history and values of social welfare and social work inform our research, especially lessons from national emergencies and social upheaval? How do we engage our profession's ethics during changing times? In what ways can we advocate for social change and social justice through our research practices?
While we acknowledge ethical and methodological commitments in research are critical to embodying social work values in any moment, circumstances from COVID-19 provide a powerful platform to fully acknowledge what is at stake in our knowledge-building endeavors.