Reflections on international research collaborations: Decolonising our research approach

22 February 2021

Guest blog by Dr Ann M. Price, Principal Lecturer, and Andrew Southgate, Senior Lecturer at the School of Nursing, Midwifery and Social Work, Faculty of Medicine, Health and Social Care, Canterbury Christ Church University.

Working with international groups has its own excitement and challenges. This blog will outline some reflections and lessons learnt from our experiences. Ann will discuss working with two international research groups that were conducted online, and Andrew will highlight how his international research experience and students’ reflections are having a positive impact upon developing a globally inclusive curriculum.

Ann’s blog:

I have been involved in a European project and an international research collaborative venture and both have been enjoyable experiences but had different challenges. Collaborating with a group of researchers through the International Family Nursing Association involved researchers who were based across the world, including USA, Japan, Hong Kong, Australia, Europe, South Africa and England, which meant finding a suitable time to meet was difficult. Although the meetings were all held virtually, the group had to be committed as meetings could be early morning or late evening depending on the time zone. I was also reminded that we are not UK centric and the meeting time for me was 9pm (complicated by our British Summer Time changes). If considering an international project, then adjusting for the majority is important for this aspect and the need to commit is essential for success.

The European project EMPOWERCARE was designed to have site visits to see the implementation of the different approaches that enabled older people to maintain their health. These site visits were postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and this information was gained via virtual means. Although this navigated the immediate problem it meant that the engagement involved groups explaining their working practices rather than seeing this in action. This was complicated by needing interpreters for some of the partners but everyone was committed to giving practical examples about the way they were implementing their work strategies.

In both projects I was surprised by the similarities across different countries and how much shared experience we had. This was emphasised as the COVID-19 pandemic struck and we discussed our own countries and their responses; all were experiencing similar concerns and frustrations. The International Family Nursing project I was involved in was related to Intensive Care Units and families, which were issues being highlighted on the news channels with the cessation of family visiting, not just in UK but across the globe. Many of the researchers were lecturers and had the same issues of transferring to online teaching and different ways of working, another shared experience. Although we were thousands of miles apart, there was a sense of shared support and understanding and this was sometimes reflected in the work allocated if someone had a particular personal or work pressure.

An unexpected issue was written and expressed English. I was working with a sub-group from Europe for the International Family Nursing work whose first language was not English and we often had discussions about the best way to express something. Although the dictionary might be accurate in meaning, the phrase would not be common in written English and another term would flow better. I felt privileged that they considered my thoughts around this but also felt a sense of responsibly to capture the research findings accurately. With both projects, as someone who speaks only English, I was in awe of those managing to speak and write papers in English as a second language. This heightened my awareness about the difficulty of using another language and often people required thinking time to find the most appropriate word.

Andrew’s blog:

As Lead for Internalisation for Nursing Programmes, I have been involved in taking undergraduate health and care students to Japan for an eight day cultural exchange. These were conducted as part of an International partnership with a Japanese University. The purpose of the exchange visit was to enable students to develop learn about a different culture and develop their cultural competence skills. I undertook a research project related to the visits. The first publication focuses on the fears and anxieties the students expressed prior to the visits and whether these could impact upon their learning. One of the themes identified and discussed is “Cultural Differences”. This indicated that the students were aware there would be significant cultural differences between the United Kingdom and Japan. These related to standards of behaviour, using culturally appropriate language when communicating, traditions embedded in Japanese culture, such as the giving of gifts, and body image.

I also supported students to write reflective publications relating to what they had learnt on returning home from the visits. One was a reflective account focusing on how one student overcame the some of the cultural challenges encountered. Another student paper reflected on the differences between undergraduate nurse education in the UK and Japan. A final article examined the learning experienced from a visit to a specialised rehabilitation centre.

The findings from the research and the reflections from the students have enabled me to start to engage academic staff within the School in conversations on how to further develop a culturally sensitive, culturally aware curriculum and embed these principles in our teaching practices. This has enabled us to begin to review, in a critical way, the progress we are making towards decolonising the curriculum. For example, as Module Lead for the undergraduate BSc adult nursing leadership and learning module, the decision-making session examines different cultures, values, beliefs and traditions and how these could influence clinical decision making. The integration of research informed teaching and student learning from reflection on their own experiences is enabling us to progress from a UK focused curricula towards more globally inclusive programmes.

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