Welcome to the Freeman Research Group “Culture Pages”
Guidance in these pages outline practices to help us achieve our goals, promote equity, limit unnecessary struggle and wasted resources, and perform research with public health in mind. We’ll always be improving our approach! If you work here, you can help.
Set up a project specific Box folder using our standard Box folder template to help maximize our group’s organization between and within projects and share folders/sub-folders with those involved in the project.
Conduct a literature review to familiar yourself with the topic (e.g., past research, comprehensive books, systematic reviews, knowledge sharing websites, “best practices,” etc.). We recommend you use our group Zotero library (or a personal library) to manage and organize project specific resources (this will help in the long run!). It’s also beneficial to make annotated PDFs that you save in your Zotero library for future reference.
Stay up-to-date on research by setting up PubMed, Google Scholar, or other database-searching alerts for topics, authors, and research groups related to your project.
Create a version-controlled “notebook” in which to record your progress, which includes your thinking, notes from papers, and your analyses. There are many fine ways to do this, what is most important is that the notebook is organized and that you use it.
Make sure you have access to any software you may need for the project. See “Working Together” for software and tools we use.
Look at what is being done now to explore the current thinking. Familiarize yourself with other projects and/or organizations that are working on your topic or similar topic. Map out where they are working, how long they have been working there, and what is being done.
Connect with key partners, other researchers working on the project, field teams, etc. We recommend developing a tracking form that you use throughout the project to map out stakeholder/project involvement (EXAMPLES???).
Ask how the work is funded, if you do not yet know, and what kinds of reporting requirements and deadlines we may have. Contracts often require monthly progress reports; those for grants are less frequent. Identify any collaborators and make a plan for working with them.
What are you researching?
What are the expectations from partners, collaborators, and the group itself? Sometimes these might not align directly, so it’s good to map them out and make sure they are communicated. After this, revisit your proposal and make sure your objectives and deliverables are clearly defined.
Review, develop, revise your research questions. Identifying a good question can take some time. Talk with collaborators and group members, read, study patterns, reason from first principles, and keep talking. What phenomena are you trying to explain? Generate many questions. Consider the next step, if necessary, in picking questions and make sure they are clear, interesting, important, understandable, and shared with relevant partners.
Posit some answers to your questions. What do those answers imply? What patterns or processes are (in)consistent with them? How can you test them? How can you make sure you are testing them correctly, i.e., that your analysis is correct? Draft some approaches. Prioritize a few.
Project values assessment
Once you have clearly defined your objectives, deliverables, and research questions, this can be a good point to conduct an initial “project values assessment” found in our Freeman Research Group Box folder. We try to do this a few times throughout the life of each project to assess the practice of the Freeman Research Group vision, mission, and values in our projects.
“Launch” workshop with the group
There is a wealth of knowledge in the group! Conducting a “launch workshop” is a great opportunity to share what you have been working on with the group. We recommend coordinating with our weekly group meetings — feel free to request more time than an hour if you need it.
While the workshop is mostly up to you, we have some general guidance on what to present/ask for of your audience: (1) provide a quick overview of the project and research topic, (2) outline your objectives and deliverables, (3) provide one slide for each of your research questions and your proposed methods/approaches to answer these questions. This last part is the most important! Here, group members can share their thoughts on your research questions, methods, and approaches based on their expertise. They may also help direct you to tools and instruments that they have developed or used in their respective projects.
Look at your budget and research activities and start to think about travel. Identify dates that you may need to schedule around (e.g., national holidays, elections, vaccine/MDA campaigns, large conferences, etc.).
Projects can be very different in terms of there timelines. That said, we recommend that you develop a general work plan to track progress against your objectives and deliverables. Example “project work plans” (EXAMPLES???) can be found in our Freeman Research Group Box folder.
Most important step! Now that you have done all of the front end work, formalize your research questions, methods, and work plan into a protocol. For most projects this will be required for IRB. You can model your protocol based on some examples of “protocols” found in our Freeman Research Group Box folder.
If you are working with data, there might be IRB restrictions on how it can be used, stored, and shared. Find out and comply. Emory IRB provides guidance on anything you’d want to know to ensure that our projects are conducted in accordance with applicable federal regulations and institutional policies. In addition, we have also compiled some examples of “consent forms” and “IRB submission and review” found in our Freeman Research Group Box folder that may assist as you start this process for your project.
Now that you have your protocol ready, make sure to map out how you plan to publish findings that emerge from your research questions. We have a simple tracker to help list papers our group is working on and their status (concept, seeking lead, not started, drafting, submitted). Fill out as much that you think will be helpful for you, Matt, and others supporting the paper using our tracking form - Freeman Research Group - Paper Plans and Ideas.
Stakeholders, decision makers, policymakers, etc. are very busy people. In our group we strive to communicate effectively, to share our message quickly and clearly. For manuscripts, we often do this through our two-page policy briefs, which provide a high-level overview of the research which are an important tool for communicating our findings. Similarly, we develop concise project summaries, research notes, and meeting reports. Examples of these can be found in “communication briefs” in our Freeman Research Group Box folder.
Expectations and capacity building of field staff
It is common for us to work with field staff and hired enumerators on our projects. As part of our values, we try to be transparent communication about challenges and expectations. Thus, we feel it is important to discuss expectations during initial trainings and on-boarding with field staff. (EXAMPLES???)
We also have a mission to conduct capacity strengthening with those we work with. To aid in this process, our group has developed a simple “capacity building worksheet” found in our Freeman Research Group Box folder.
Project closing with field staff
A special thank you to Sarah Cobey, Ben Lopman, and Brian Graaf. Their “Handbook” and “Culture Book” served as an inspiration and reference for our Culture Pages. These are also great references for general guidance in research and academic settings.
Have suggestions? That’s great! We are continuously trying to improve the way that we work as a group. In addition to more formal reviews of our guidelines and policies during semi-annual group “retreats,” group meetings are a great place to discuss or introduce processes, tools, platforms, etc. that you think the group can benefit from.