One of the main research methods utilized by the Heart of Gold Project is participatory observation research. During the pilot tour the team of student researchers participate as if they are “real” tourists experiencing all aspects of the tour as FAALS intends to offer. Behind the scenes, the researchers are paying close attention to every detail from homestay arrangements to activities to guiding techniques, and critically assessing the good, the bad, and the ugly. Once the tour is complete the researchers gather for an intensive debrief session to share thoughts, ideas, suggestions, and perspectives. This is one area where the value of having a diverse team of researchers really shines through. While many ideas overlap there are many important subtleties that each individual detects as a result of their unique perspective, cultural background, education, etc.
After all thought are shared and the debrief draws to a close, a brief sense of relief and accomplishment washes over the group – we’ve completed the task we set out to do! But have we really? Not quite. All of these ideas and data are not going to achieve anything floating around in our heads or stuck between the pages of our notebooks. We need to share the information with the people that need it most and can transform the information into an action plan. This step is referred to as knowledge mobilization (KM) and is arguably one of the most important and challenging aspects of conducting successful research.
In this case, the FAALS members were the primary group with whom we intended to share the results of our research. When determining the most effective approach to KM the group considered several factors such as language/cultural barriers to overcome, literacy levels, and access to technology. During the research design phase, we decided that we would present our findings in a brief report using simple language and highlighting our main ideas using bullet points. The report was written in English, translated to Spanish by the researchers, and then proofread by a local to ensure the translations were accurate. By creating a report, the families would have a tangible document they could use as reference as they continue to move forward with the development of the trail.
Another strategy employed to enhance KM was a capacity building workshop with FAALS that featured several components to share our findings and recommendations. We facilitated a world café style activity where FAALS participants were separated into their respective communities and were asked to critically reflect on several categories: accommodation, transportation, guiding, trails, and tourist safety. This activity promoted collaboration and critical thinking among the FAALS families and highlighted the fact they possess a great deal of knowledge within themselves. We (the researchers) are here to empower and support, not to be “the experts” and tell them what to do and how to do it. Afterwards we shared some of our main points and suggestions with the families and encouraged them to create a one-year action plan with due dates and coordinators to implement the ideas generated during the workshop. As always it is up to FAALS to decide how they will use our ideas and recommendations. For me personally, one of the most satisfying parts of returning to volunteer on the project a second time was to see all the progress that had been made as a result of some of our the work we did the previous year.
Written by: Nichola Evernden