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Exploring the Literature: Research & Data Ethics

As dLOC as Data’s effort to demonstrate the potential of newspaper data included the selection, use, and analysis of historical hurricane and storm data from Caribbean publications, we were aware that compiling some relevant works of the research and data ethics literature was an important part of encouraging discussions of best practices and considerations for our own toolkit. 

Within the literature collected focusing on research and data ethics broadly as well as disaster-based research in particular, we found several recurring points for consideration. In addition to the methodology and scope of research initiatives, context, historical and otherwise, presents another important aspect that must be considered by researchers for initiatives. In terms of methodology, ethical behavior and practices must be a major consideration from initial discussions of research design to data collection and analysis to presentation of findings and post-collection procedures. Research and data collection should be purposeful, respectful, and coordinating in nature for locals and outsiders alike, particularly research exploring disaster-based response and history. Researchers should be able to explicitly determine the scope and nature of their efforts, while accounting for the concerns and expectations of affected communities as well.

In terms of context, historical and geographic factors influence the form and scope of best research and data collection practices for a particular region or community. For research initiatives focusing on an aspect of post-colonial societies, acknowledgement of colonial entitlement, in itself an important distinction to make as a result of the influence of colonial rule on archival material and data collection practices, provides researchers with an opportunity to confront colonial dynamics and make steps to fill in archival gaps with materials and narratives that reflect the experiences of involved communities. Similarly, this practice in turn encourages researchers to recognize valued indigenous ways of understanding and defining major events, or natural disasters in the case of our own data. One work in fact challenges the popular perception of data and numbers being able to ‘speak for themselves’, calling for researchers to instead consider factors that may influence interpretations of findings and approach data with an intersectional lens. 

As our own initiative focuses on hurricane data collected from Caribbean newspapers, in some cases published from colonialist perspectives or prior to formal independence from colonial rule, each of these considerations is valuable to our discussions and the development of the thematic toolkit. Other potential points to consider include language, as utilized for describing and identifying storms, and publication source, as a platform for the elevation of particular voices, possibly evident between independent and national or state newspapers.

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