How to be safe when researching in dangerous areas

Conducting field research in far away, possible unsafe, countries? Don't leave home without a special guidebook.



Every year, thousands of researchers travel around the globe to conduct field research, collect data, and check information. But how safe is that? Accidents, lack of health care, robberies, wars and conflicts: all these can be real risks for researchers depending on their research environment.

The abduction of two experienced Dutch journalists last week in Colombia by guerrilla group ELN shows that everyone can be at risk, no matter how experienced. Luckily, the two men were released. But to prevent these things as much as possible, scientists of (among others) the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) wrote ‘Security Guidelines for Field researchers in Complex, Remote and Hazardous Places’.

Go prepared
The book helps scientists to prepare and execute their fieldwork as safely and securely as possible. Because it is not just them who are at risk, but also the people they interview, their translators, sponsors, and others involved. Besides, the hazardous circumstances might influence the research outcomes. The authors advocate that researchers take into account the risks of their research environment when making methodological and ethical choices.

Be safe and healthy
The first section of the publication deals with the particular security considerations posed by field-based research, and suggests a set of ethical guidelines. Section two is about fieldwork and details how to conduct context analysis and risk assessment as well as how to plan and stay healthy during the course of field research.

The final section is largely comprised of checklists and key considerations to assist researchers in managing their own personal security, both in terms of preventive and reactive measures (such as safety training).

Security Guidelines for Field researchers in Complex, Remote and Hazardous Places by Dorothea Hilhorst, Lucy Hodgson, Bram Jansen and Rodrigo Mena


Professor Dorothea Hilhorst is professor of humanitarian aid and reconstruction at ISS.


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