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Decolonisation and decoloniality of research and evidence cultures

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Woliso Dobi (with black and white head wrap), mother of six, with fellow members of the Okiminata Self-Help and Radio Listening Group at their weekly session where they listen to climate information (forecasts) broadcast in their language (Bena) with info Credit: Indrias G. Kassaye/Christian Aid
BRACED Radio listening group

Decolonisation and decoloniality of research and evidence cultures

What does the on-going conversation about decolonisation mean for the way we do our research?

Within Christian Aid’s Research, Evidence and Learning team, one of our priorities is promoting knowledge justice (epistemic justice). This encompasses the work needed to recognize how colonial knowledge structures shape our understanding and formalization of knowledge.

We’ve grappled with what decolonisation means for how we conduct our research and evidencing work within Christian Aid and the wider development sector, and one of the questions we’ve attempted to answer is: ‘What elements might make up a decolonial praxis, both from a research and programme design point of view?’.

For us, we believe it would entail:

  • A call to disobey or to ‘refuse’ what we know.
  • Recognition that methodology itself is a disciplinary tool.
  • Asking questions of our chosen methodology –  what’s the role and purpose of the method? Does it silence certain groups of people? Does it perpetuate inequalities?
  • Moving towards more diverse research methodologies. Can we, for example, use less surveys and Focus Group Discussions and incorporate more approaches like oral histories, soundscapes, craft making, lifeworlds, community-based design?

We also recognize that the decolonisation conversation calls to recognise that it’s about a power relationship – even among those we work with – and not only about the colonial structures established between the Global North and Global South. It raises questions about how certain institutions continue to benefit from laws or processes established during the European colonial project, and therefore wield power that continues to perpetuate injustice.  

It's important to note that there’s no methodical checklist nor a defined endpoint. This is a long process that actively works to dismantle, re-create and push at the limits of methodological boundaries.

If you’d like to understand the key definitions and ‘asks’ surrounding the work towards decolonisation and decoloniality, especially from a research perspective, this 9-page position paper might interest you. It highlights the crucial concerns that should guide research and evidencing teams dedicated to decolonisation, especially those focused on fostering epistemic/knowledge justice. The paper explores key concepts, provides clear definitions, and offers actionable recommendations while creating a reflective and interactive space, through reflection points included after each discussion.

In the paper, we note that decoloniality (taking on a decolonial praxis) requires us to first address epistemic questions: Who gets to know the world? Who gets to shape the world? Who or what is silent or silenced?