SVRI Research Grant #16Days 2022 Blog Series
Written by Anil Raghuvanshi and Preeti Maharjan, ChildSafeNet
In this blog we talk about some of the challenges we faced in conducting the research and share the solutions we found to overcome them. In so doing, we hope that others will learn from our experiences and find our strategies helpful when planning for research in similar settings.
There was great excitement at ChildSafeNet when we heard that our research on online intimate partner violence against teens and young people in Nepal was selected for the SVRI Grant 2021. The research aims to understand the patterns, prevalence, and vulnerabilities of online IPV among teenagers and young people aged 16 - 24 years in fifteen municipalities of ten districts from all seven provinces of Nepal. We use a mixed methodology with both quantitative and qualitative data collection tools. The study has also partnered with a tech company to develop an artificial intelligence tool, which understands Nepali language and can detect online abuse.
Online violence can have extremely negative mental health and physical consequences for young people. Yet, despite its pervasiveness, in Nepal and in many other low- and middle-income countries, it is not well understood, or even talked about. Doing research in low- and middle-income countries can be hard and doing research on sensitive and / or taboo topics can make it even more difficult. The following are some of the challenges we faced when doing research on online violence in Nepal and the solutions we found to address them.
- Ethical clearance. Obtaining ethical approval from the Nepal Health Research Council and Social Welfare Council was challenging. We were required to obtain and submit approvals from all seven provincial governments and fifteen municipalities. Since we do not have field offices, we deployed field researchers and got assistance from local NGOs. The process took longer and costed much more than planned, but the study was finally approved.
[Training workshop for the research team]
- Taboos in Nepal: In Nepal, only married couples are legally recognised as intimate partners. This is mainly because prevailing social and legal norms do not accept intimate partners outside marriage, and it is a taboo to talk about sex. Therefore, to introduce the study to potential participants we had to be very careful in how we spoke about the focus of the research. For example, we talked generally about the various online risks for teens and young people, including online IPV and how this study might help to prevent and protect them. We also provided an online risks and safety training at various schools and colleges after conducting survey.
To connect with victims/survivors we first contacted them via basic phone or text messages. If they agreed to be interviewed, we asked about their preferred mode of interview (online or in person), time and place. Several participants were interested in sharing their experience with us; however, they were hesitant to meet us in person, thus, we conducted telephonic interviews. Some participants' families did not know about their victimisation, so we had to be very careful when and how to contact them. Also, we had referral psychological support in place for the participants.
- Quantitative data collection and focus group discussions: We approached several schools and colleges for data collection, but many were reluctant to participate. This meant we had to expand our recruitment efforts and approach more schools and colleges. Despite these challenges, we met 87% of our total survey target. We had planned for 40 focus groups discussions, but we conducted 17 as we reached data saturation.
- Obtaining consents and assents: We had to obtain written consent from participants aged 18–24 years and assent from those aged 16-17 years. Obtaining assent and consent was extremely challenging, given the sensitivity of the issue. To address this challenge, we produced an introductory video on online IPV to use in awareness raising sessions. This assisted us in meeting 88% of target in 18-24 years old participants and 98% target in 16-17 years age group.
Video on Online IPV YouTube Link: https://youtu.be/6sBjGcZUhiA
- Parental consent: We had difficulty in obtaining consent from the parents of 16–17 years old participants and sought help from schools to invite parents for group information sessions. We also conducted awareness sessions with students aged 16-17 years and gave them parental consent forms to be filled by their parents. However, only 30% of parents consented and less than half of the children participated in the study. Furthermore, some of them did not complete the survey. Regardless of these challenges, we met 98% of our target.
- Use of mobile phones for data collection: We planned to collect data using the participants' mobile phones. Schools and colleges in Nepal generally do not allow students to bring phones to schools and colleges but, upon our specific request, some schools and colleges allowed them to bring phones. Most schools and colleges did not have internet access, so we provided the participants with mobile data.
- Online survey: We planned to conduct online surveys with 4,000 participants, aged 18–24 years. Despite the paid boosting, responses were very low. Therefore, we collected data on-site, which took longer, and required more human and financial resources.
- Finding respondents for in-depth interviews (IDIs): Finding participants who have experienced online IPV to conduct IDIs was a big challenge. In Nepal, online IPV is less understood, is under-reported and people do not want to talk about it. Therefore, we contacted NGOs, helplines, government entities and the police. However, we did not receive much information and many of the identified people were unreachable. This resulted in a lower number of IDIs.
In finding solutions to the challenges we faced, the study provided us with multiple learning opportunities on doing research in a low- and middle-income country, where understanding or awareness of online IPV is limited. We learned the importance of properly budgeting and allowing time for administrative approvals, getting informed consent, coordination, field support/operation, awareness raising, as well as contingency planning. We believe the lessons learnt and our efforts to overcome them will be helpful for other researchers as well, particularly in countries with similar social contexts.
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About the Authors
Anil Raghuvanshi is the founder/president of ChildSafeNet, a leading organization in Nepal working to protect children and young people online. He has worked for more than three decades as a child protection professional with UNICEF and international organisations
Preeti Maharjan is a Senior Research Officer at ChildSafeNet. Preeti has more than five years of research experience in gender-based violence, occupational health, infectious diseases, antimicrobial resistance, and neglected tropical diseases.