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Many Ways of Saying No: Methodological Complexities in Cross-Cultural Research

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Abstract:

Many Ways of Saying No: Methodological Complexities in Cross-Cultural Research
Harry Smaller, York University and Michael O`Sullivan, Brock University
The research literature is replete with studies of the effects on North American students of their International Service Learning experiences in the South. Much less has been written about the impact of these programs on the South itself – in particular, the consequences for the rural villages and the inhabitants where these programs often occur. Recently, the authors engaged in a research project in five small rural Nicaraguan villages where groups of high school students from Ontario, Canada had previously been placed to engage in community service learning activities. Part of the overall data collection process, involving interviews and focus groups with residents, was undertaken by a female Nicaraguan researcher with many years of experience in working with local groups. At the outset, she explained to each individual and group interviewed that the purpose of the project was to explore the benefits of these ISL projects to local individuals and communities, but also to receive frank opinions about whether they were really were worthwhile, and also to discern ways in which they could be improved. Another major aspect of the research were interviews conducted by the authors with Nicaragua-based project administrators who worked for NGOs and other organizations involved with coordinating these community-based ISL projects. This paper will outline in more detail the overall research project, and our findings and analysis to date.
In addition however, it is our intention to explore what we see as a methodological problematic with our work – resulting in what seems like a significant disjuncture between what we heard from community residents, as compared to the reports from the organizational project coordinators. While this latter group remained generally in favour of these programs, they did point to a number of ways in which, they believed, community residents were disadvantaged by the arrival and presence of groups of students into their villages and homes. By contrast however, in spite of the interviewer’s assurance of confidentiality, and in spite of her expertise in drawing out respondents’ reflections and opinions, the responses of the community residents consisted almost entirely of lauding the benefits of these programs - both for their communities and for the students themselves. Even her assurances that the programs were not in any way in jeopardy, and that any suggestions for improvements would only make them better, did little to invite critical comment or recommendations for improvement. In discussing these findings with NGO officials, some suggest that residents are still, perhaps understandably, wary about possible consequences of voicing any criticism. Others point to the possibility of a more ingrained cultural issue, based on a purported Nicaraguan trait of not wanting to say “no” even within their own community interactions. In any event, the paper will explore this continuing dilemma, in the context of a review of relevant literature on cross-cultural research methods.
A consideration of ethical methodological approaches to collecting data in cross-cultural settings where power imbalances are always an issue is an important task for researchers working in international settings. This paper is part of an emerging research initiative in Canada.

Author's Keywords:

methodology; inter-cultural communication
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Association:
Name: Comparative and International Education Society Annual Conference
URL:
http://www.cies.us


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URL: http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p718020_index.html
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MLA Citation:

O'Sullivan, Michael. and Smaller, Harry. "Many Ways of Saying No: Methodological Complexities in Cross-Cultural Research" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Comparative and International Education Society Annual Conference, Sheraton Centre Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, Mar 10, 2014 <Not Available>. 2014-12-10 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p718020_index.html>

APA Citation:

O'Sullivan, M. and Smaller, H. , 2014-03-10 "Many Ways of Saying No: Methodological Complexities in Cross-Cultural Research" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Comparative and International Education Society Annual Conference, Sheraton Centre Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada <Not Available>. 2014-12-10 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p718020_index.html

Publication Type: Conference Paper/Unpublished Manuscript
Review Method: Peer Reviewed
Abstract: Many Ways of Saying No: Methodological Complexities in Cross-Cultural Research
Harry Smaller, York University and Michael O`Sullivan, Brock University
The research literature is replete with studies of the effects on North American students of their International Service Learning experiences in the South. Much less has been written about the impact of these programs on the South itself – in particular, the consequences for the rural villages and the inhabitants where these programs often occur. Recently, the authors engaged in a research project in five small rural Nicaraguan villages where groups of high school students from Ontario, Canada had previously been placed to engage in community service learning activities. Part of the overall data collection process, involving interviews and focus groups with residents, was undertaken by a female Nicaraguan researcher with many years of experience in working with local groups. At the outset, she explained to each individual and group interviewed that the purpose of the project was to explore the benefits of these ISL projects to local individuals and communities, but also to receive frank opinions about whether they were really were worthwhile, and also to discern ways in which they could be improved. Another major aspect of the research were interviews conducted by the authors with Nicaragua-based project administrators who worked for NGOs and other organizations involved with coordinating these community-based ISL projects. This paper will outline in more detail the overall research project, and our findings and analysis to date.
In addition however, it is our intention to explore what we see as a methodological problematic with our work – resulting in what seems like a significant disjuncture between what we heard from community residents, as compared to the reports from the organizational project coordinators. While this latter group remained generally in favour of these programs, they did point to a number of ways in which, they believed, community residents were disadvantaged by the arrival and presence of groups of students into their villages and homes. By contrast however, in spite of the interviewer’s assurance of confidentiality, and in spite of her expertise in drawing out respondents’ reflections and opinions, the responses of the community residents consisted almost entirely of lauding the benefits of these programs - both for their communities and for the students themselves. Even her assurances that the programs were not in any way in jeopardy, and that any suggestions for improvements would only make them better, did little to invite critical comment or recommendations for improvement. In discussing these findings with NGO officials, some suggest that residents are still, perhaps understandably, wary about possible consequences of voicing any criticism. Others point to the possibility of a more ingrained cultural issue, based on a purported Nicaraguan trait of not wanting to say “no” even within their own community interactions. In any event, the paper will explore this continuing dilemma, in the context of a review of relevant literature on cross-cultural research methods.
A consideration of ethical methodological approaches to collecting data in cross-cultural settings where power imbalances are always an issue is an important task for researchers working in international settings. This paper is part of an emerging research initiative in Canada.


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