The social responsibility of the qualitative researcher

Much has been said about the responsibility of the researcher in setting up/running qualitative research with integrity and sensitivity to the comfort of our respondents, and I was reminded of this again today in a different context.


I have just been to a very relevant and thought-provoking talk by Professor Adam Habib, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of Wits University, that was organised by my children’s school. He is an academic, activist, renowned political media commentator and columnist, and the topic was ‘how should we respond to the challenges currently facing our country?’. One of the themes he touched on was the need to fix public schools in South Africa, in order to improve levels of education. 

And his simple, obvious and very valid suggestions included to:

 ‘make sure children are in the classrooms when they are meant to be, so they can be taught’

  • how often have our respondents told us on Corporate Social Responsibility research projects, that one of the biggest problems teenagers face in townships is dropping out of school?
  • how often have we been conducting fieldwork in townships and see children/teenagers hanging around, not in school?
  • there are obviously rules in place about how research is conducted with children/teens, and in my experience researchers do respect these

‘make sure teachers are in the classrooms when they are meant to be teaching’

  • but how often have you had teachers in daytime research sessions?
  • this struck us many years ago, and we wrote into our recruitment questionnaire that we do not ever want to see teachers in daytime research sessions! [Of course this does not prevent people in other occupations skipping work to attend a daytime focus group…]

‘encourage our children to stand up when classmates/friends make a comment that is racist/sexist, and to demonstrate that behaviour ourselves in our daily interactions with people’

  • how often have you as a moderator/observer of a group sat with gritted teeth when respondents say something racist/sexist and socially unacceptable – as the moderator, we have to act as the ‘chameleon’, and keep the group in form, but wow that is sometimes so hard!

‘encourage a culture of mutual respect and understanding, in order to try to close the gap and correct misunderstandings between people in South Africa’

  • as qualitative researchers we are already open to understanding other cultures. But how often have I heard about qual practice that is simply disrespectful, eg black respondents being forced to speak in English rather than vernacular, for the comfort of the researcher/the client/the moderator (why no translator?), or mixing multiple LSMs in one session?
  • where is the respect and an appreciation of respondent dignity, which will help to ensure a deeper more real response…


An awareness of our social responsibility as both qualitative researchers and human beings should always be in the back of our minds.


Leave a reply

  • {postedOn}