Martin Pastoors’ Blog: Social Science Workshop, Day 1

On the 7th & 8th of February, 2013, the GAP2 project is running a two-day workshop in Chioggia (Venice), Italy to enhance GAP2 scientists’ knowledge in methods used in social science research. You can read about the workshop here


Within GAP2, Martin leads Work Package 3. You can read more about him hereMartin is also currently investigating participatory research in Canada, Here, Martin Pastoors gives his impressions from the social science methods workshop in Chioggia, Italy. 

“I remember how the social science methods workshop came about almost by accident during the GAP2 annual meeting in Brussels last year. While discussing the contents of the GAP2 toolbox for participatory research, we found that it would not be sufficient simply to list the possible tools (interviews, participant observation, mapping, etc.) but that was a need to get hands-on experience with those methods. Many of the researchers in GAP2 have a natural science background. The real question is: can you transform yourself to become a social scientist, well equipped to deal with social science methods?

The social science workshop in Choggia demonstrated that it is definitely possible to get acquainted with social science methods like interviewing, but that it requires work, practice and often a change in worldview before you will be able to really use the methods in an appropriate way.

Martin Pastoors commenting on GAP2 case studies
© Tomaso Fortibuoni

This key message came across very well in an interview that Maiken Bjorkan had carried out with her colleague Jan Petter and that had been sent in as a video to the workshop. Jan Petter explained that the big difference between the natural science approach and the social science approach to participatory research is this: where natural scientists tend to focus on extracting data and information from fishers, social scientists will focus on the joint construction of information and as a learning process. By carrying out an interview, you are entering into the lives of people. And by entering into the lives, you may also be changing the system that you intend to study. The awareness that the role of the researcher is not neutral within the social context that you are operating is an important lesson for natural scientists.

The two instructors to the workshop – Marloes Kraan and Mark Dubois – did an excellent job in guiding us through different aspects of social science. It definitely triggered my sensitivity to how we do the things that we are doing. A nice example was how they started the workshop, with conscious attention they not only organised the seating plan of the participants in a particular way, they also started the workshop with a very personal exercise with one-to-one conversations. Being used to the traditional type of workshops, with short introductions about who you are and where you work, this personal start felt like suddenly there was room for the person that you are instead of the role that have. It immediately created an atmosphere of trust and engagement.

I think the workshop could be a game-changing event that demonstrates how social this activity called ‘participatory research’ actually is. Awareness of how researchers, fishers, members of NGOs and policy-makers are interacting and how our role is affecting that interaction is crucial for the success of GAP2. So I am very happy that this workshop came about and even happier that I was lucky enough to participate.”

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