ODU Researchers Win Competitive Grant Funded by the Minerva Research Initiative

Different research approaches provide a limited picture of safety and security in informal settlements (or “slums”). But these are just approximations of the real lived experiences for residents in informal settlements. What happens if one of those perspectives is missing because it is nearly impossible to send researchers there? If we combine multiple research perspectives, we might get an even better understanding of reality.


The Minerva Research Initiative has awarded Old Dominion University researchers $1.6M over the next three years to test what might be missing if certain methodologies are not possible to conduct in a hard-to-reach environment. We focus on informal settlements, as a semi-hard-to-reach environment, which simulates the hard-to-reach environments that are too dangerous to send researchers into.


Informal settlements provide a space where we can access data on the ground. But these and publicly available data are not easily accessible. By using both qualitative observations on the ground and computational approaches, we will be able to directly compare our distanced-computational findings with data from inside the informal settlements to understand what is missing when we are only able to conduct research from afar.


Khayelitsha in Cape Town, South Africa

Our project, “What’s Missing? Innovating Interdisciplinary Methods for Hard-to-Reach Environments,” connects researchers from four international universities in a unique opportunity to study the same site for the same research question at the same time while using different methodological approaches. Our team intends to investigate one question: In what ways do residents of informal settlements innovate to adapt to (im)provision of safety and security?


Five methodological teams will begin their initial round of research in Khayelitsha Site-C in Cape Town, South Africa. They will repeat the research process in Villa Caracas in Barranquilla, Colombia to generate cross-contextual insights.


The five methodology teams are:

· Visual Sociology (ODU)

· Institutional Ethnography (University of Agder, Norway)

· Citizen Science (ODU/South Africa consultant)

· Survey (Universidad del Norte, Colombia)

· Web and Social Media (ODU).


An additional team from ODU will build a unique modeling framework to bring together the different analyses of “ground truth.” Finally, a team at York University, Canada will study the researchers themselves to gain insights about multidisciplinary dialogues that advance scientific interdisciplinary collaboration.


As part of this project, 9 graduate students (1 from York University, 2 from University of Agder, 3 from Universidad del Norte, and 3 from Old Dominion University) and 2 undergraduate students from Universidad del Norte will be supported to develop disciplinary research skills and interdisciplinary communication experience. The project will also build research relationships with in-country consultants who have extensive community service expertise in each site area.


You will be able to follow this and related project work at Storymodelers.org (@Storymodelers on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook).

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