Dr Pauline Ngimwa, Programme Manager for Professional Development and Training at the Partnership for African Social and Governance Research (www.pasgr.org), describes a recent INASP-supported workshop to pilot a module on Engendering Social Science Research Methods held in Kenya on June 5-6, 2017.
Co-designing with learners
A participatory approach to design is not new. It has been used extensively in the field of Human Computing Interaction (HCI). Specifically, designing educational content collaboratively with users has merits that range from understanding contextual needs and provisions to specific learner expectations (see this 2013 article entitled ‘The different roles of “design process champions for digital libraries in African higher education’). This played out during a recent workshop that piloted a module on ‘Engendering Social Science Research Methods’.
The module was developed following a recommendation to provide training on how to engender social policy research during a PASGR gender sensitization workshop that had benefited from initial funding from INASP.
The module interrogates macro and micro power structures from a gender and intersectional perspective. It gives participants the basic tools to critically incorporate these approaches in their own social science research and policy work. In order to comply with PASGR’s quality assurance requirements, the developed module needed to be piloted. INASP once again provided financial support to hold a two-day pilot.
Participatory design process
Usually, a module pilot targets the intended learners of the module. In this case, we chose to do things a little differently. The completion of the module design coincided with our Advanced Research Design Methods Institute. The institute delivers research methods training to early-mid career researchers from African universities, research centres, government departments and the civil society. This presented a perfect opportunity for a participatory design process of the module, albeit in its final stages, with the institute’s participants.
The institute usually attracts a wide range of scholars from the various social science disciplines, including gender. We identified gender scholars who were attending the methods institute to participate in the design process and worked collaboratively with the module developers. They applied their theoretical and experiential knowledge to shape the module and add any missing content. In addition, they offered invaluable critiques on the content and pedagogy.
We also tapped into the experience of the instructors that deliver the methods institute. This team of seasoned and committed African academics have over time developed expertise in social science research methods. They guided the integration of PASGR’s already established pedagogical practice to the module. PASGR’s highly interactive, innovative and practical pedagogy is important in delivering exceptional learning experience to participants.
The design process was therefore enriched by these two categories of participants working with the module developers. Selected PASGR programme staff led by the Executive Director, a sociology scholar with a keen interest in gender scholarship, also contributed to the design.
The participatory design process involved reviewing each unit of the module and critiquing the nature and depth of the content. Delivery strategies and tools, like role plays, case studies, video clips and hands-on sessions were also explored. The module is structured so that theory is delivered on each topic. Participants then put theory into practice using brief group exercises or the other tools mentioned above.
Topics covered included: introduction to gender, principles of gender-sensitive social science research, gender-sensitive mixed method research, and research ethics in gendered social science research. The workshop was full of activity, characterized by a lot of interactive and animated discussions. As a result, we received invaluable feedback that has been used to strengthen and sharpen the module.
What we learned from this process
When one brings in experts as users in the participatory design process, one must be highly objective and resilient enough to accept all sorts of critiques. This was the experience of our two module developers and the PASGR staff responsible for the module development. The module was highly critiqued and there were several animated debates that are characteristic of academics. The two instructors gracefully listened and extracted feedback that they ultimately confessed was extremely valuable.
We also learned that when one collaborates with the target users of a product in the design process, there are always pleasant surprises. The institute instructors who participated in the pilot gained insights into some gender issues that they plan to add to the existing modules. One of them commented: “Now I can see how I will integrate gender aspects in the modules I facilitate”.
Finally, involving users in the design process brings their experiences and expectations into the development. This aspect would otherwise be lost when designers work in isolation. Participants expressed their needs and expectations, which were used to help us identify gaps and shape the module.
In conclusion, all the feedback from the pilot has been used to improve, sharpen and strengthen the module. This module will be added to the suite of PASGR short professional development training modules to help African social science researchers integrate gender dimensions in their research.
PASGR wishes to thank INASP and the Open Society Initiative of East Africa for their financial support towards this workshop.