Research participants are not simply informants.
We asked community researcher Irene Ayallo why she got involved in research, and what she hopes for how community research is done in Aotearoa. Irene also co-curated our special collection of research – Hear From Us, Not About Us – showing the power of refugee-background and ethnic-migrant research. Thank you Irene – you are a treasure.
- What is the one thing you find yourself repeating, when it comes to how to do research well?
The one question I get asked a lot, especially by people new to research and do not know where to start, is, “how do you come up with a research topic, or how do you know what to research”. It is an interesting question because how I answer it has changed since my pre-undergraduate days, learning about the traditional ways of doing research and what makes effective research, especially from a postcolonial perspective. I keep repeating that the research topic should emerge in discussion or be based on practice within the community where the research outcomes will have the most impact; theory and practice should not be two separate focus areas. A good practice is informed by theory, and a good theory is formed from actual practice.
- How did you get involved in research? Can you include a moment in time when you realised that research was where you wanted to put your energies?
I have been fortunate over the years to have built some solid networks or connections with practice and research communities. These are valuable connections to research because, within these networks, I have met people passionate about our various communities and want to support what works well and improve what is not working well. This is how I have often been involved in research, discussion, and collaboration with these communities.
A moment? I have always had a curious mind, often seeking to understand how things work and the way they do. I remember my first ever piece of research, a research paper completed as part of my first Bachelor’s degree. This was a critical evaluation of cultural practice within my cultural group (ethnic group), which I thought was valuable but also very discriminatory. It was my first big piece of writing – 10,000 words and I surprisingly got a good grade with some good constructive feedback. So formally, I would say that this was when I knew that research was something I wanted to keep doing.
- How is doing research well with former refugees or ethnic-migrants different from, say, pākehā communities?
I think that what makes research different or unique in our communities is the ‘immigration’ factor. While it may be true that many issues that former refugees or ethnic migrant communities face daily are similar to issues faced by other communities, it is the process of immigration that make our issues/problems unique. Migration and resettlement are complex processes and present challenges and opportunities for individuals and families. Moving to a new country challenges how people think about several issues, and therefore any research with our communities cannot ignore the impact and experiences of immigration.
- What are you working on now?
Since the beginning of the year, I have been working on phase 2 of a research project that began in 2020 on the effectiveness of INZ’s Victims of Family Violence visa policy in addressing violence experienced by ethnic migrant women. As part of the research, I have interviewed women who have successfully or unsuccessfully utilised these visas and community practitioners (i.e., community lawyers and social workers) who have supported them in applying for these visas. I am now in the process of analysing the information gathered and writing up the findings for dissemination.
- In terms of methodologies for community research, what ones do you find yourself advocating for, and why?
Interesting question because I often let the research issue guide me to a research methodology. However, for addressing problems facing former refugees or ethnic migrants, I am partial to methodologies under the umbrella of Participatory Action Research. Methodologies which begin from the premise that research participants are not simply informants. They are capable of learning, changing, acting, and transforming their world. They can develop solutions both to their struggle and survival. Mainly, the participants involved have lived experiences when engaging with experiential issues. They hold the epistemic privilege of what works and what does not work. Therefore they should be co-collaborators in research.
- If you could wave your magic wand, and community and whānau aspirations were met in research, what would that look like?
That’s a loaded question. But in an ideal world, to meet the needs of our communities, theory and practice would work together as intimately linked focuses, not as separate entities. This means that practitioners, front facing with our communities, and theorists in academia, policymaking etc., would work closely and collaboratively.
- And what do you do to relax, away from the world of community research!
My personality, not to be boxed but for the sake of a response, is introverted. I need to recharge from within to have enough energy to re-engage. So, anything that takes me within is a welcome way to relax. I read many non-research-related books, especially fiction books, and watch many films; I love fashion and interior design, too, so I spend much time exploring the latest trends.
- Is there anything else you’d like to share with us, and the people we serve?
We are all researchers. As I said before, we all hold what we refer to in academia as an epistemic privilege. We all have lived experiences of specific issues and therefore know what works and what does not work. I share this because I think it is a very empowering thought and position to be in, to understand that all of us make a significant contribution to research.
Academic research conducted by Dr Irene Ayallo – Exploring cultural identity construction among African migrant and refugee background youth in Aotearoa New Zealand, African Mother’s experience, Addressing domestic violence against ‘ethnic’ women.