QAF’s and Resources to Mitigate Risks in Academic Research

On June 12th and June 13th, FabRiders collaborated with two doctoral researchers, Lydia Medland and Maria-Teresa Pinto, to design and deliver a workshop at the University of Bristol aimed at helping doctoral researchers strengthen their fieldwork practices and protect themselves and their research participants.

Agenda Hacking

To develop this participatory workshop, we interviewed several doctoral researchers before hand to learn about what would make a two-day workshop worth their time. More than anything, they wanted the opportunity to compare fieldwork practices to better understand how to mitigate risk and handle ethical dilemmas. In designing the agenda, we aimed to maximise the opportunities for peer knowledge exchange and learning by working in small groups to discussing questions such as:

  • What are your passions and motivations that drive you to do your research work?
  • How do you sustain yourself and make sure you don’t burn out?
  • What is of value to you in your research work? What are the assets?
  • How does your research work sustain you?
  • What is unsustainable about your research?

We then turned to more traditional threat modelling questions, discussing:

  • Who might be threatened by your research?
  • Who do we need to protect our assets from?
  • How likely is it that we will need to protect your assets?
  • How bad are the consequences if we fail to protect them?
  • How much trouble are we willing to go through?

Comparing fieldwork practices

These discussions led the participants to conclude that there is not a one size fits all approach to guidelines for understanding and mitigating risks, but rather a more robust set of questions that doctoral researchers should ask frequently, in order to keep themselves and their participants safe. They then compiled the following list of questions to ask frequently (QAF’s), focusing on:

Fieldwork practices

  • How much should others risk for my research?
  • How much risk am I willing to take?
  • Who would notice if I went missing and how long would that take for them to notice?
  • What are safe and appropriate spaces to do fieldwork?

Their participants and others

  • How do I protect those that have participated in my fieldwork? Am I keeping them safe?
  • What, if any, distance should I keep from my participants/community?
  • Am I keeping participants safe?
  • Who are my allies in this research; and who are my adversaries?

Their own self-care

  • What are the emotional and physical risks of this research for the researcher, the participants and others (and how am I going to address them?)
  • What should/would make me leave?
  • What are my strategies for self-care?
  • Can I accept physical/mental health issues in fieldwork? Should I?

Compiling QAF’s

The implications of collecting and storing data

  • Is my data full-monty friendly?
  • Is using the internet compromising data security?
  • Is my data adequately anonymised?
  • How can I safely store raw data and for how long?

Managing an ever-changing set of factors

  • How do I know what not to ask?
  • Am I correctly mapping the social and political context of my research?
  • Do I understand the context?


  • Is the ‘Impact’ of engaging stakeholders worth the potential attention of our project?
  • What do I do if I think university protocols actually increase the risks?
  • Are there other researchers facing similar issues willing to share best practices?

The World Cafe Format

Along with the threat modelling and the generation of the QAFs, we were were grateful to welcome the following academics to help us consider risk and risk assessment inside and outside the University context:

They also led in-depth discussions to further explore larger themes such as: the issues of risk in violent environments, data hygiene (keeping your data in order), self care, gendered aspects of fieldwork and the ethics of research.

Workshop Exercises and Content:

Resources to help researchers mitigate risk: