What do you do if you want to embed social justice into mixed-methods research? Where can you go and how can you do it? Social justice research needs a purposeful emphasis on justice throughout the research process. This means that justice is not considered only at the end, but throughout the entire research design, from conceptualization to creating tools, data collection, analysis, findings, sharing findings and continuing to engage with communities.
When we started writing our book about centering justice in mixed methods research, we drew from our previous work around social justice in qualitative research (with the gist discussed in a TEDx talk here) and social justice in evaluation. We define social justice in research as “the purposeful commitment and advocacy to address systemic and systematic issues of equity and inclusion in particular for marginalized and oppressed peoples” (p. 4). We extend the idea of social justice research to justice-centered (a topic Anna highlights in a forthcoming book for Routledge), emphasizing the importance of critical self-reflection in the process.
We thought it would be a simple feat to find people to contribute their experience on pedagogy and research from a mixed-methods direction but found it more challenging than expected. There are prominent scholars and practitioners taking on the helm, such as our colleague Donna Mertens, who is recognized as establishing transformative mixed methods and guiding students and researchers through transformative mixed methods research and evaluation approaches.
Yet, while we found a lot of people centering justice in qualitative research, those using social justice in mixed-methods research were harder to find. In qualitative research, entire journals emphasize a critical direction in theory, such as the International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, with articles about border crossing or educational freedom. Or journals that emphasize justice through publishing open access, such as the International Journal of Qualitative Methods, making knowledge viewable to the world, including articles for instance about “rigid flexibility” and failures in research or about multicultural focus groups.
Here is what we’ve learned from our previous research and practice. These ideas draw from interdisciplinary research practices, which emphasize purposeful integration of disciplinary perspectives to solve large-scale problems and from gender mainstreaming (here, here and here), which recognizes the need to incorporate an equity mind-set and process throughout transformation and not as a tack on at the end of a project.
As such, there are three straightforward ways to embed social justice into mixed-methods research:
- Start from the beginning. Recognize your emphasis on social justice (and/or economic, environmental) and brainstorm how those ideas could be reflected in each step of your study. Talk with others about your ideas and see where you can extend your thinking and practice. Embedding social justice is not something that is added on at the end. It is created and embedded throughout the research process.
- Critically self-reflect. Ask yourself honest questions throughout the process. For instance, when you create your data collection tools (e.g., questions for interviews, focus groups, surveys), consider the type of language and dialect that is being used. Whose voices and register of language are prioritized? Does this fit with your goal of creating a socially just study?
- Embed critical self-reflection into quantitative (and qualitative) work of the project. Overreliance on qualitative data for critical examination of social justice issues leaves quantitative data uninterrogated and can perpetuate harm and bias. Seek opportunities to understand where your own lens and positionality might influence things like the quantitative approaches and data that you choose, the way that you create quantitative instruments for data collection or how you interpret and report quantitative data findings. Take trainings specific to quantitative methods and socially just data practices, such as Heather Krause’s We All Count’s data equity workshops and Talking Data Equity Series.