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Community engagement

Community engagement is key to how this project will produce knowledge about displacement-affected communities. Researchers will draw upon oral history (through interviews) and focus-group discussions. Both methods are suited to the co-production of knowledge, i.e. displacement-affected communities being involved in the creation of the data and the outputs. In other words, those involved in this project wish to avoid extracting data without acknowledging how that data is as much a creation of the individuals and groups who are interviewed as it is of the researcher.

Interviews are dialogues, conversations with a purpose, and what comes out of them is co-constructed. The direction of the interview is not a one-way street paved by the researcher, but more like a path along which research participants take researchers. Many such paths make an interview, some stories are re-told with new perspectives, provided by the passing of time. And different ‘tellings’ of the stories emerge when narrators have different audiences, made up of the researcher and wider audience that participants see can be reached through a research project. Often the narrative path that interlocutors take the researchers on are paths rarely taken, possibly new paths formed through the act of the co-constructed interview, new directions through a meaning-filled narrative landscape that is always evolving.

It is not only in one-to-one interview settings that participatory research production happens. Focus groups offer another way to include displacement-affected communities in the creation of knowledge with the researchers. They add a further social aspect to the dynamic because more members of displacement-affected communities are involved in the discussions that produce knowledge. Indeed, displacement-affected communities are best placed to understand the relationships, meanings, and motivations behind the moral economies of support and care.

Discussions between members of these most knowledgeable groups are facilitated by researchers. A goal of these is for meanings, interpretations, and understanding to emerge from co-constructed dialogue, where members of the community lead each other down narrative paths that are beyond the knowledge of the researcher whose local knowledge will not be as rich as of those with lived experience of displacement and the communities it affects. Adding to the rich outcomes of focus groups are the different perspectives of community members, including the possibility of disagreement, emerging from grounded experiences. And, importantly, focus group discussions may lead to members of the communities learning new things about each other, prompting new ideas and understandings.