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Insights and Practical Examples

What approaches can be taken to address the very unique challenges of conflict settings?

Conducting research in conflict settings presents numerous challenges, including security risks, limited resources, and ethical considerations. However, with careful planning and adaptive strategies, researchers can navigate these challenges and maximize the potential for impactful research. This article explores key challenges encountered in conflict settings and provides practical examples of how researchers have addressed them, highlighting innovative approaches and lessons learned.

  1. Security Risks and Access Constraints: Conflict settings often pose significant security risks, making access to research sites and participants challenging. Researchers must prioritize the safety of participants and themselves. Collaboration with local partners, community leaders, and humanitarian organizations can facilitate access and ensure that research activities do not inadvertently worsen the security situation.

Example: In a study conducted in a conflict-affected region of Afghanistan, researchers established strong partnerships with local NGOs and community leaders to gain access to internally displaced populations. By working closely with trusted local partners, they were able to navigate security challenges and ensure the safety of participants and research personnel.

  1. Displacement and Population Mobility: Displacement is a common consequence of conflicts, leading to the dispersal of populations and making follow-up and tracking difficult. Researchers need to consider the transient nature of participants and employ flexible methodologies that account for population movements. Longitudinal studies may require innovative approaches, such as using mobile technologies or collaborating with humanitarian agencies to maintain contact with participants.
  2. Ethical Considerations and Vulnerability: Research conducted in conflict settings must prioritize the protection and well-being of participants, who may be particularly vulnerable due to the traumatic experiences they have endured. Informed consent, confidentiality, and adequate support mechanisms should be established to ensure ethical research practices. Researchers should engage with local communities, cultural brokers, and ethics review boards to navigate the complexities of ethical considerations.

Example: A study on gender-based violence in a conflict-affected region of the Democratic Republic of Congo employed a participatory research approach. The research team collaborated with local women’s organizations and community leaders, involving them in the study design, data collection, and analysis. This collaborative approach ensured cultural sensitivity, empowered the community, and fostered ethical practices.

  1. Limited Resources and Infrastructure: Conflict settings often suffer from a lack of resources and infrastructure, which can pose challenges for data collection, analysis, and dissemination. Researchers should adapt their methodologies to the local context, utilizing innovative techniques and technology, building local research capacity, and collaborating with existing healthcare or humanitarian systems.

Example: In a study on maternal and child health in a conflict-affected region of South Sudan, researchers partnered with local healthcare providers to collect data during routine health visits. By integrating data collection into existing healthcare systems, they minimized additional burden on limited resources and enhanced the efficiency of their research activities.

Conclusion: Despite the challenges, conducting research in conflict settings holds immense potential to generate evidence that can inform policies, interventions, and programs aimed at improving the lives of affected populations. By addressing security risks, adapting methodologies, engaging with local stakeholders, and adhering to ethical considerations, researchers can navigate these challenges and maximize the potential impact of their research. The practical examples provided demonstrate the importance of context-specific approaches, collaboration, and innovation in overcoming obstacles and conducting meaningful research in conflict settings.


Mazurana, D., Gale, L., & Jacobsen, K. (2013). A View from Below:: Conducting Research in Conflict Zones. In D. Mazurana, K. Jacobsen, & L. Andrews Gale (Eds.), Research Methods in Conflict Settings: A View from Below (pp. 3-24). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/CBO9781139811910.003

Tappis H, Freeman J, Glass N, Doocy S. Effectiveness of Interventions, Programs and Strategies for Gender-based Violence Prevention in Refugee Populations: An Integrative Review. PLoS Curr. 2016 Apr 19;8:ecurrents.dis.3a465b66f9327676d61eb8120eaa5499. doi: 10.1371/currents.dis.3a465b66f9327676d61eb8120eaa5499. PMID: 27226926; PMCID: PMC4865365.

Sami, Samira, et al. “Maternal and child health service delivery in conflict-affected settings: a case study example from Upper Nile and Unity states, South Sudan.” Conflict and health 14 (2020): 1-12.

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Conducting Health Research in Conflict Settings: Navigating Research Challenges for Impactful Evidence

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