We are constantly in a process of development – the world keeps turning every day, everyone is always taking a step forward. We work in development projects and develop individually, for example through the postgraduate training programme. It is a process that never stands still, even if we tend to be habitual. These habitual structures sometimes need to be adapted, to the new, over which we often have no control.
How the United Nations (UN) organises these adaptation processes within its development system (UNDS) is what we are currently investigating in our research. During these last months, we have been influenced by the second wave of the pandemic that has been stronger than previously expected. For our research, this means a lot of change and above all: digitalisation. Our project on the UNDS reform, once planned with a stay of several months in South Africa, is now being conducted from Germany but, thanks to the digital possibilities, worldwide after all.
The supposed loss turned out to be a gain in our particular case in the last few weeks. While no longer having to be physically present in the field, we can collect data worldwide and investigate our research questions in Côte d’Ivoire, Georgia and Uganda.
As a research team studying changes across a system, we realise that sometimes we too have to change our usual/familiar structures in order to move forward. We have the rare chance to do a new kind of research and to reach out to actors in a way that would not have been possible through travelling in such a short period of time. Isn’t it disappointing that we cannot gain intercultural experience on the ground? Of course it is. And we also assume that by working digitally, we will have less access to stakeholders – especially beyond the UN system – in the countries.
But for our study, it seems to us, the advantages of digital research outweigh the disadvantages. We are very aware that we are in a privileged position. And so we hope to develop ourselves in this process to such an extent that in the future we can better assess for which projects we can use the opportunities of digital research as a sensible alternative to field research involving climate-damaging travel – and for which projects digital approaches are less suitable. As a team, we have the rare opportunity to conduct a valuable digital study of a global system and are very grateful to be able to take such big steps forward during this difficult time.