IHSA Working Group on Safety and Security of Research

Working group coordination: Rodrigo Mena, Thea Hilhorst, Marta Welander

Background and Rationale

When conducting in-situ or fieldwork research, researchers often operate within complex and dynamic social and political contexts, and derive their data from that environment. Both the quality of research and the security of the researcher – as well as the security of the respondents, local assistants and interpreters, organisations, and research sponsors – are impacted by how well-planned the research is, taking into account the local context and the risk environment. The ethical components of our research are also strongly connected to the planning of the safety and security of research. Therefore, proper preparation and risk management planning are critical to the success of a research programme.

The initiation of this IHSA working group was motivated by the fact that research always carries a degree of risk, that may jeopardise security and affect the quality and ethical considerations of the research. In addition, and importantly, safety and security often reflect hierarchies and inequalities in development studies, where well-insured international researchers work with partners who have no such facilities. Risks are all too often dumped on these partners; something which ought to change.

Aims of the working group

This IHSA working group aims to boost and make safety and security initiatives and efforts more widely discussed, developed, and implemented. It intends to explore and make strides on matters of safety and security during research, both for those working within their home country, and as foreigners. Also to offers a space for discussing the safety and security agenda, identifying institutional barriers, and sharing good practices pertaining to the safety, security and ethical components of doing research.

While considerations of security are obvious for researchers working in conflict environments, the working group is meant to explore issues for researchers operating both in volatile environments and in areas not considered particularly hazardous. In addition, seemingly ordinary health and safety concerns may take on extraordinary significance in precarious environments without proper awareness and risk management planning in advance. Similarly, authoritarian places and the politicisation of humanitarian action and even the research of it also invites us to think about the risks of our endeavours. It is those kinds of scenarios that the working group seeks to raise awareness around, in addition to more traditional safety and security considerations.

Joining the working group

The working group welcomes all researchers engaging in fieldwork at all levels of seniority; both researchers working in their home country, and those whose home and normal residence is elsewhere, as well as researchers who work in a remote or hazardous part of their own country.

To join the working group, please contact: info@ihsa.info

Working group resources and outputs:

The working group and its members have actively developed resources to support, advance and reflect on n the safety, security, and ethical components of our research.



Articles and blog posts from the members:

  • Ethical considerations of disaster research in conflict-affected areas, Disaster Prevention and Management, 2021 (Link)
  • Risk dumping in field research: some researchers are safer than others, Debating Development Research -EADI Blog, 2021 (Link)
  • Remote research in times of COVID-19: considerations, techniques, and risks, ISS Blog on Global Development and Social Justice – Bliss Blog, 2020 (Link)
  • Are you oversimplifying? Research dilemmas, honesty and epistemological reductionism, ISS Blog on Global Development and Social Justice – Bliss Blog, 2019 (Link)