Studying disaster-affected populations can help to advance knowledge on how to effectively improve public health, emergency management, and other forms of institutional response. Collaborating with other researchers, local organizations, and study participants can help further this effort.
Convergence research “involves diverse teams working together in novel ways—transcending disciplinary and organizational boundaries—to address vexing social, economic, environmental, and technical challenges in an effort to reduce disaster losses and promote collective well-being” (p. 2).1 Investigators should strive to prioritize these collaborations to engage in research that is ethically grounded and scientifically rigorous. In addition to supporting meaningful research, research collaborations can help reduce the incidence of duplicative studies that can place excessive burden on individuals who have just experienced a traumatic event.2,3 Researchers should coordinate and collaborate with each other before entering the field to minimize the potential harm of disaster-affected populations. Extreme events research and reconnaissance networks represent a great place to start.
Given the event-driven nature of disaster research, researchers are often drawn to cross-cultural or international disaster zones where they may not be familiar with the local culture or language.2 The lack of familiarity with the local context makes it especially pertinent to collaborate with individuals who possess an insider perspective.4 Collaborating with local universities, community-based organizations, governments, or other research organizations during the study design phase can help ensure that the locals are involved in important decisions regarding what questions are asked, which populations are studied, and what methods are used. Hiring local translators can also address language barriers, though researchers should carefully consider who they work with to safeguard the quality of the data being captured. It often necessary to get the “blessing” of all relevant levels of government before descending into the field to do response-related research, from the Ministry of Health all the way down to community leaders. Equitable partnerships with local researchers can enhance cultural competence while empowering members of the disaster-affected community.
Participatory research approaches are another way to partner with members of the local community from the outset of a study. Actively involving study participants in decision-making and ownership of the research can help ensure that the study reflects the experiences and knowledge of people most directly impacted by a disaster. By including relevant stakeholders in the analysis and discussion of results, participatory approaches can also help translate findings into meaningful action that can support disaster response and recovery.5 For instance, rather than just publishing research findings in academic journals for other researchers to access, participatory approaches place data in the hands of the people who can help drive change.
1.Peek L, Tobin J, Adams RM, Wu H, Mathews MC. A framework for convergence research in the hazards and disaster field: The Natural Hazards Engineering Research Infrastructure CONVERGE facility. Front Built Environ. Published online 2020. doi:10.3389/fbuil.2020.00110
2.Gaillard J, Peek L. Disaster-zone research needs a code of conduct. Nature. 2019;575(7783):440-442. doi:10.1038/d41586-019-03534-z
3.Packenham JP, Rosselli RT, Ramsey SK, et al. Conducting science in disasters: Recommendations from the NIEHS Working Group for Special IRB Considerations in the Review of Disaster Related Research. Environmental Health Perspectives. 2017;125(9). doi:10.1289/EHP2378
4.Nuffield Council on Bioethics. Research in Global Health Emergencies. Nuffield Council on Bioethics; 2020:1-308. https://www.nuffieldbioethics.org/publications/research-in-global-health-emergencies
5.Gibbs L, Block K, MacDougall C, et al. Ethical use and impact of participatory approaches to research in post-disaster environments: An Australian Bushfire case study. BioMed Research International. 2018;2018. doi:10.1155/2018/5621609