Global Development Institute Blog

Sylvia Nyarko, GDI Merit Scholar, 2018/2019.

I believe Covid-19 has come to stay and is far from over. Its ripple effects and impacts have greatly been felt by all including academics. Those mostly at loss are the PhD and MPhil students who require primary data for constructive analysis and research progression, and lecturers who were embarking on research projects abroad which have been delayed if not halted entirely.

Previously, conducting research abroad was very rewarding and fulfilling. Apart from gathering research data, one gets to explore other cultures, tourist sites, meet friends and networks which enhances personal and professional experiences. Now, such a “researching-abroad-package” is a cost to global health which is hampered by the risk of spreading the virus across nations.

Countries are ensuring strict immigration rules and observing health protocols including Covid-19 testing at their various airports. In Ghana, international arrivals pay $150 for mandatory Covid-19 test before one is welcome to mingle with the locals. For non-Ghanaians, interacting with the locals can be an issue as many people believe and refer to Covid-19 is an “imported or better said a foreign disease”, such stigma is lower than earlier in the year when I arrived in Ghana from the UK. Even though I am a native, I experienced a bit of social stigma which was a bit depressing. Nevertheless, Ghanaians are very hospitable towards foreigners, I must say, but in this time of the global pandemic, the “welcome” is unlikely to be so positive.

In the midst of Covid-19, organisations are remotely working and resorting to online means for their “business as usual” or activities that do not necessarily require physical interactions. Currently, international researchers are in a dilemma as to whether or not to postpone their research activities until it’s safe to travel abroad. In an attempt to continue with academic research, many are resorting to “desktop research”—using secondary data and archives of previously conducted research for their current on-going research activities. This is particularly among PhD and MPhil students who need to meet deadlines and complete their project given the financial commitment and length of sponsorship. However, the concern is, “can we guarantee the authenticity, quality and originality of such high research work by relying on secondary data?”

Can International researchers afford to use ONLY secondary data for constructive and detailed analysis?

Unlike other academic fields, research in Humanities/ Social Sciences is such that we have to continuously study the unit of inquiry/analysis to be able to better appreciate and address current development issues. Societies are very dynamic and complex with altering needs and challenges given the rapidly growing population, demands and technology. How can academic researchers capture such development changes and challenges?

To some extent, we can justify the use of secondary data on the basis of trend and longitudinal surveys—which studies the patterns of development issues of a particular study area or population over years and give an idea of what are the “usual” development challenges and needs. Hence, such data and information can be projected and perhaps anticipate similar results. However, “how do we prioritise such needs so as to address the most relevant need/needs and ensure effective timely and effective strategic interventions?”

Covid-19 has taught us how uncertain the future challenges and needs can be. I am very sure that the priorities, business models and socio-economic interventions before, during and after this pandemic (if it goes away, hopefully) will differ from the last/next 5-10 years’ development studies and interventions. Moreover, the basic hypothesis under which research is conducted is to: Improve existing knowledge, acquire new knowledge, be abreast with topical development issues and debates.  This is possible with the help of acquiring primary data, which reflects current issues.

Collecting and analysing primary data is an important means to understanding current development issues and appreciating their challenges. By this, researchers are able to prioritise and suggest strategies to address real-life development challenges as they occur. Using secondary data as an alternative to primary data due to Covid-19 for development research might not necessarily reflect the current needs of society. By this, policy-makers might be addressing development issues which are of no relevance to the present society and its’ needs or perhaps not the top priority. This will be a problem for our expedition to promote sustainable and relevant development growth and agendas.

Moreover, it’s very important for academic researchers to make use of primary data as this increases their confidence, allows for higher control of data, enhance originality and authenticity while certifying ownership of the research data collected unlike using secondary data.

What can be the new “ways” in collecting primary data amid a global pandemic when conducting international research?

As an upcoming development researcher, I reflected on the conduct of international research in Ghana amid Covid-19 and how I can support, especially in the aspect of collecting quality data without compromising research standards. In an attempt to identify the need to help international research, I decided to set up a research support firm, Synchronised Research, with friends (from the GDI-University of Manchester, University of Twente, Netherlands, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Ghana, and the University of Ghana) to fill the void created by Covid-19 in conducting international research.

Synchronised Research is a locally-based research firm in Ghana which uses pragmatic and innovative means to assist academics, both students and lecturers, whose researches focus on Ghana but are not able to travel to their study areas due to personal reasons, health-related issues (Covid-19) and others such as: geographical barrier, lack of data collection logistics and resources, inability to interact with the community; due to language and culture barriers. I thought of Synchronised Research to be a “research-insider” firm which will assist such researchers to gather quality data and information that reflects the underlining development realities whiles at the comfort and safety of their respective homes in this time of Covid-19.

As a recent GDI Merit scholar, it has not all been good news finding opportunities to work with local/international organisations as part of my aims to contribute to sustainable development and give back to my country my skills, knowledge and expertise after my studies abroad.  Unfortunately, most organisations do not have the luxury of recruiting new employees due to the impact of Covid-19 on their research and development activities, especially project funded by both local and international donors. However, I am quite excited about Synchronised Research as I will be able to indirectly contribute to international research and development in Ghana, which has always been my interest and original plan coming home after my studies.

I am hopeful and looking forward to working with international researchers in collecting quality primary data to ensure the originality and authenticity of their research conducted in Ghana. In this time of global pandemic, the world is trying to cope with the “new normal” and adopt innovative approaches to getting things done. Similarly, academic researchers need to be proactive and agile in the conduct of international research without compromising authenticity and originality.  The use of “local research-insiders” can be a better option when conducting international research than “desktop” if academic researchers want their research findings to reflect the current needs of society and be able to holistically inform policy and development debates.

I am happy to provide more information about the research support and services available. The Synchronised Research website is here, you can contact me directly through my personal email and via Linked In.


Note:  This article gives the views of the author/academic featured and does not represent the views of the Global Development Institute as a whole.