Information Worlds of Refugees: Workshop on Fieldwork and Design Methods with Displaced Populations by Conflict Zones

International Conference: Migration in a turbulent world 

ISA Research Committee on the Sociology of Migration RC31

Doha Institute for Graduate Studies, Doha, Qatar

Monday 28th November 2016 - 14.00-18.00

Room No 9, the Academic Building, ground floor, Doha Institute for Graduate Studies

To date over 65 million people are forcibly displaced by war and persecution worldwide, over half of whom are children, marking the worst global humanitarian crisis since World War II. The UNHCR reports that the vast majority of refugees (86%) remain in low to middle income countries close to situations of conflict. The everyday contexts comprising the information worlds of refugees are vast and complex. Sophisticated methods supported by extended engagement with refugees and stakeholders and triangulated data are required to understand subtleties across populations, and the implicit, hidden roles played by different people such as youth, elders, and mentors in refugees’ social networks and their effects across wider society. Such understandings can be linked to broader economic, education and environmental outcomes. Indeed, based on extensive fieldwork, Fisher (Forthcoming, 2017) identifies the following topline field and design insights for engaging in with displaced people by conflict zones—need for humanitarian research; the disruption of social fabric; closed, low resource environments; building capacity for all; the differing ubiquity of time, place and gender; iterative long-term, social engagement; universal design archetypes; youth as ICT wayfarers; connected learning; and innovating futures.

In this workshop, participants will learn (a) basic principles for carrying out fieldwork and participatory design in settings such as camps by conflict zones that are sensitive to gender, culture, time, place, and stakeholders such as agencies, governments, and factions; (b) key field methods and note keeping, working with university IRBs and agency protocols, accessing sites and participants, entering the field/networking, collecting and managing field data, data cleaning and analysis, reciprocity and relationships, and reporting with impact + sensitivity; and (c) how using participatory, co-design methods, including storyboards, maps, narrative drawings, and personas can enrich standard fieldwork methods. Workshop participants will receive critical feedback and advice on their current (planned) research engagements and receive Certificates of Completion from the Workshop Instructors. 

By 7 November 2016, please send Dr. Karen Fisher ( a 250 word description of your interest in the workshop and any past research with refugee populations, plus a brief biography.  Prior to the workshop, please read:

Fisher, K. E. (Forthcoming, 2017). Information worlds of refugees. In C. M Maitland (Ed.), ICTs for Refugees and Displaced Persons. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Talhouk, R., Mesmar, S., Thieme, A., Balaam, M., Olivier, P., Akik, C., & Ghattas, H. (2016). Syrian refugees and digital health in Lebanon: Opportunities for improving antenatal health. In Proceedings of the 2016 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI '16). ACM, NY, 331-342. 


Dr. Karen E. Fisher (, Professor of human information behavior, social innovation and design, Information School; Adjunct Professor, Communication, University of Washington, Seattle, USA. An advocate of humanitarian research, Karen has worked with refugee youth from around the world, focusing on how they serve as information and technology wayfarers on behalf of other people. A consultant with UNHCR Jordan, Karen works at Za’atari Camp as well as with Arab refugees in Europe, understanding their information behavior, and building capacity through education, livelihoods, and social engagement. Websites:  

Reem Talhouk (, Doctoral Trainee in Digital Civics, Open Lab, Newcastle University, Newcastle, UK. Reem is a researcher at the Open Lab as part of the EPSRC CDT in Digital Civics. She has a bachelor’s in clinical nutrition & dietetics and a Master’s in Public Health. Her Master’s concentrated on health management and policy and she worked on projects related to social innovation, disaster planning and health regulations. Her PhD research focuses refugees and marginalised communities, encompassing working with community kitchens in Palestinian refugee camps and in exploring technology and reproductive health of Syrian refugees. She spent the last year visiting Syrian refugee camps in rural Lebanon to discuss their reproductive health problems and how they utilise technology. She is currently using Radio Health Dialogues to enhance access to healthcare by Syrian refugees in informal tented settlements in the rural areas of Lebanon.


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