NGO-Research Collaborations and Conflicts
A view from the field
Ethnographers collaborating with NGOs and non-profits while simultaneously researching their organizational structure, practices, and beliefs about service, advocacy, and activism face myriad challenges. However, collaboration – as it exists in a dialectical relationship between stakeholders working towards common goals – may also generate ethnographic insights that add to anthropological knowledge of NGOs. According to Lassiter (2005a, 2005b), researchers undertaking collaborative ethnography have four commitments: (1) ethical responsibilities to stakeholders; (2) honesty/transparency about research; (3) accessible writing; and (4) collaborative reading, writing, and interpretation. Collaborations may be interrupted at various points, but especially where bureaucratic structures and operations intervene. For example, agreements and documentation (e.g., memoranda of understanding, or MOUs) often challenge the interests and affect of collaborative work. In this article I draw on five years of collaborative NGOgraphy, Lassiter’s conceptualization of collaborative ethnography, and respond to Hymes’ (1972) call for a personal ethnography, in order to discuss the challenges and opportunities of NGO-researcher collaboration.
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