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Center for Policy Design and Governance

Research to Practice Brief Series

Research in a Closed Political Context, COVID, and Across Languages: Methodological Lessons, Messages, and Ideas

Darzhan Kazbekova, Rebcca Schewe

December 2023


This study offers a number of contemporary qualitative and mixed methods research lessons regarding cross-language research and research in closed social and political contexts such as post-Soviet countries, especially how such research may be adapted to disruptions like those posed by the COVID pandemic or other disasters. The lessons draw from a study of policy learning among government officials in Kazakhstan which illustrated several methodological strengths and weaknesses and generated a number of methodological recommendations. In particular, while the literature on best practices for research in closed contexts emphasizes deep interactions to develop trust, the COVID pandemic and other disruptions may force researchers to transition to online modalities and constrain options. We suggest strategies to overcome these limitations, including supplementing findings from interviews with content analysis or other multimethod approaches. Additionally, we argue that researchers in post-Soviet and post-colonial contexts must be particularly attuned to the challenges of cross-language research and the combination of local languages with the language of the colonial power. These lessons hold relevance for researchers working in a variety of contexts as they conduct research during times of disasters and geopolitical instability.

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