The Elizabeth Fry Society of Saskatchewan (EFS) works with women before, during, and after incarceration to reduce reoccurrences of criminal activity and support women at high-risk of such activity due to racism, violence, and poverty.
The non-profit organization provides programming for women who already have extensive personal information in files with the justice system, and often with other systems such as child services. EFS also has to collect personal information on clients to secure grant funding.
My job was to research best practices and come up with a policy framework for EFS staff to use in gathering client information. EFS is concerned that collecting clients’ personal information the same way that federal or provincial services do clashes with the organization’s mission to support women first. They want a way to collect necessary data for grant funding that also prioritizes client autonomy and dignity.
“We are working on building our data collection, but want to make sure we disclose how that information will be used responsibly to clients,” said EFS Associate Executive Director Jonna Reaume.
“We also work with a very marginalized and vulnerable population, who are frequently asked for information, and we want to make sure our practices are inclusive, responsible, and responsive to the women we serve.”
As a social scientist working on a PhD in interdisciplinary studies, I have always been concerned with the ethics of data collection in my own research. The EFS project interested me because I see it as a way to connect the academic side of my own research with a practical issue that will potentially help many people.
The Study Method
My research for this project has been mostly literature review. Not much research exists on the topic, so I have collected research from anthropology, decolonizing methodologies, and informed consent processes.
Many of the clients EFS serves are Indigenous so I focused my efforts on the role of informed consent in research with Indigenous communities and on the growing body of literature on decolonizing research methodologies. To build the framework, I extended these ideas from their academic setting and worked to creatively incorporate research theories and methods into practice.
The framework I created is a series of questions grouped around four main themes. These questions will help guide the creation of data collection forms and processes by focusing on EFS’s commitment to inclusive, responsible, and responsive practice.
Through this framework, I have provided a way to distill my academic research on best practices for data gathering with vulnerable clients into a practical guide that EFS staff can follow as they continue to build their data collection.
On a personal note, I have found working with EFS on this project to be extremely beneficial to my professional and academic growth. My goal has always been to work in the non-profit sector after completing my degree. Additionally, applying my research skills to a practical problem is a skill I need for both my dissertation and future career.
If this framework is beneficial to both EFS and their clients, there may be an opportunity to extend and share with similar non-profit organizations working with vulnerable people.
Disclaimer: Any omissions in fact or interpretation remain the sole responsibility of University of Saskatchewan. The findings do not necessarily reflect the views of Research Impact Canada, its funder The Conference Board of Canada, or its partner the Future Skills Centre.