More than giving us new insight into how things really are, research can help us work out what to do, how to do it, and, at its very best, enable people to reflect and change at a deep level, such as through participatory action research.
My approach to applied research is that it should have a clear purpose, be ethical and reach rigour through clear and explicit decisions about its design, implementation and analysis. I believe in thinking seriously about the audience and use for research and finding ways to engage people through the process so that research or evaluation doesn’t just sit on a shelf or, even worse, in a digital folder.
I enjoy working with academics with a bent for applied research, and advocates who believe in having a solid basis for what they are doing and who are bravely reflecting and adapting their work as they go.
My past research adventures include:
There is an urgent need to provide vulnerable workers and communities with more effective means of defending their human rights when they are violated by transnational businesses. This research tests how effective current avenues of redress are by examining 10 cases of community complaints against mining, agribusiness, and garments manufacturing projects in India and Indonesia.
When I was head of research at Oxfam I helped design this project. Since 2013, I’ve been working with the team of academics to analyse and synthesis their results and find the best ways to engage those who could best use the analysis in the future.
May is an exceptionally talented researcher, facilitator and networker. During May’s time leading Oxfam Australia’s research unit, myself and a number of academic colleagues were extremely fortunate to work closely with May in establishing a research partnership examining the human rights practices of transnational businesses. Negotiation of the partnership was highly complex, involving the engagement of a number of universities and NGOs at national and international levels, as well as coordination of several different organisational units within Oxfam. Its successful establishment depended critically on May’s outstanding ability to mobilize people, ideas and resources within her own organisation, and among the range of other NGO and University partners involved. More broadly, May possesses an extremely rare talent for traversing the distinct universes of grassroots community work, high-level policy work and academic research: transitioning between these levels of engagement with apparent ease in her own work, and also facilitating strengthened communication, dialogue and joint action between others in these spaces.
– Kate Macdonald, Melbourne University
As the financial crisis spread across the global, most organizations relied on national statistics to understand its impact. The many and varied human impacts of the crisis in developing countries – its effects for people working in the informal economy, or the burden of additional care work for women – were often obscured and went unaddressed in responses.
Working with colleagues across the Oxfam confederation, I led a 12 country study of the human impacts of the crisis and the policy responses from governments, NGOS and others. The research used quantitative and qualitative research methods and worked with local partners and staff in Indonesia, Nicaragua, Vietnam, and Zambia amongst other places. I designed and facilitated a process in Bangkok for country research teams, advocates and partners from IDS UK and the ILO to analyse the results together, producing a global synthesis report. Oxfam used the results to change programming and influence decision- makers. Dialogue on draft results included roundtable discussions with government, international organizations such as the World Bank and IMF and civil society in the US, UK, Australia, Vietnam, Indonesia, and the Pacific Islands.
Communities in Melanesia are often assumed to be immune from global shocks. This research project countered that wisdom, finding that the global food and fuel spikes affected 90% of households.
I worked with Simon Feeny and Lachlan McDonald to design and lead the study. Mixing quantitative and qualitative methods, the project involved 1600 household surveys, 75 focus groups, and 50 key informant interviews conducted in twelve communities across urban and rural Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands over two cycles of field work in three years. I designed the qualitative research methods, trained sixty local researchers and co-authored book chapters and policy briefs. The project created a Pacific Islands measure of multi-dimensional poverty and made policy recommendations aimed at reducing vulnerability and building local resilience.
Simon Feeny and his team provide fascinating and important insights into how Melanesia’s people cope with the region’s high vulnerability to shocks of all kinds. A major contribution of importance to researchers and policymakers not just in Melanesia, but for those elsewhere in the world aiming to strengthen the resilience of households and national economies.
– Tony Addison, Chief Economist and Deputy Director,United Nations University’s World Institute for Development Economics Research (UNU-WIDER)
Transparency International is a movement of independent, national chapters in over 100 countries working to promote integrity and counter corruption. They are well known for their research and advocacy, and increasingly for their work to engage people directly in fighting corruption and impunity. Working with Annabel Brown, we conducted a mid-term review of the contribution of the International Secretariat in Berlin to the movement’s aims. We visited six countries, surveyed and interviewed hundreds of stakeholders and reviewed significant documentation. Importantly, we engaged TI chapters and staff in analysing what it all meant and produced a report that resonated with those who knew the organisation best, and provided a path forward to greater effectiveness.
Overall the MTR exceeded our expectations in terms of the impact that it had in the internal collective debate. May and Annabel are two very seasoned professionals that were able to make sense of reams of information and immense structural complexity in very little time and understood the organisation to a level of deepness that is impressive. Staff’s reviews of the MTR report were overwhelmingly positive, with a good number saying that the report reads as if it’s ‘our colleagues talking to us’. It is definitely a report that due to the process and outcome will remain in the minds of staff. ….The strength of the MTR lies in the very clear intellectualisation and articulation of the issues, and in the framing of these in a very raw and direct way.
– Rute Caldeira, Head of Monitoring Evaluation and Learning, Transparency International
Global Goals and International Agreements: Lessons for the Design of the Sustainable Development Goals, ODI
This research came from a conversation on a ferry on the East River with my friend, Duncan Green. He was lamenting the lack of evidence about the impact of the MDGs and I was arguing that there was a lot of existing evidence that applied to agreements that were more analogous to what was being proposed in the SDGs. Claire Melamed at ODI liked the idea and included the project in ODI’s broader work on the post-2015 agenda.
The research was a rapid evidence review of more than 100 pieces of existing research around lessons from international agreements, global goals, multi-stakeholder initiatives and regulatory cooperation – with the aim of looking at the conditions under which they influence national level change. It produced some counter-intuitive results that are relevant not just for the SDGs but for anyone pursuing change via global agreements. Also, Duncan liked the result.
A brilliant, highly original new ODI paper from May Miller-Dawkins (a friend and Exfam colleague), makes a massive contribution to that debate. It argues for leaving the MDGs behind (hooray!), and basing the level of ambition, implementation and reporting requirements much more on those other aspects of international norm setting in areas such as Human Rights and the Environment, which have had far more tangible impacts on government behaviours.
– Duncan Green, Oxfam
…a forthcoming paper from research consultant May Miller-Dawkins, poses some good starting ideas. She argues that we shouldn’t let concerns about practicality and achievability blunt the ambition of SDGs. The high ambition and non-binding nature of the SDGs could increase rather than diminish their overall long-term impact. Miller-Dawkins points out that in human rights and other agreements, high ambition has allowed domestic groups to use international norms and frameworks for leverage to generate change.
– Andrew Norton and Elizabeth Stuart from ODI writing in The Guardian.