Install the app

Install this application on your home screen for quick and easy access when you’re on the go.

Just tap Share then “Add to Home Screen”


Install the app

Install this application on your home screen for quick and easy access when you’re on the go.

Just tap Share then “Add to Home Screen”


You don't have anything in your basket.

Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Your subscription to the ECPR Methods School offers and updates newsletter has been successful.

Discover ECPR's Latest Methods Course Offerings

We use Brevo as our email marketing platform. By clicking below to submit this form, you acknowledge that the information you provided will be transferred to Brevo for processing in accordance with their terms of use.


Doing Fieldwork in Challenging Environments

Course Dates and Times

Date: Monday 22 – Friday 26 July 2024
Time: 13:00 – 16:00 CEST

Vera Axyonova

University of Vienna

This course will provide you with a highly interactive online teaching and learning environment, using state of the art online pedagogical tools. It is designed for a demanding audience (researchers, professional analysts, advanced students) and capped at a maximum of 16 participants so that the teaching team can cater to the specific needs of everyone.

Purpose of the course

This course focuses on planning, preparing and conducting field research in particularly challenging environments, such as closed/authoritarian political settings and conflict/post-conflict/post-war contexts. Centred on the ethics and practical aspects of conducting fieldwork in such environments, the course provides hands-on training covering a broad range of questions related to the assessment and mitigation of possible risks, the use of the most common methods in field research, data management, and return to the field.

The course will be most beneficial for participants specialising in Peace and Conflict Studies as well as the studies of forced migration and authoritarianism.

By the end of the course, you will:

  • have a solid understanding of the opportunities and challenges of conducting fieldwork in politically closed and conflict-torn settings, including legal and ethical concerns and the possibility of return to the field;
  • be able to apply a set of methods commonly used in field research, including ethnographic interviews, participant observation, expert and elite interviews, and focus groups, specifically tailored to challenging research contexts;
  • be able to develop a detailed risk assessment and mitigation plan as well as data management and safety plan for their own field research, and prepare for review by the Institutional Review Board or the Ethics Committee at their universities.
ECTS Credits

4 credits - Engage fully in class activities and complete a post-class assignment

Instructor Bio

Vera Axyonova is a Marie Skłodowska-Curie REWIRE Fellow at the University of Vienna and Principal Investigator of the project ‘Expert Knowledge in Times of Crisis – Uncovering Interaction Effects between Think Tanks, Media and Politics beyond Liberal Democracies’. She is the founding co-chair of the ECPR Research Network on Statehood, Sovereignty and Conflict, an editorial board member of Ethnopolitics, and a member of the Institutional Review Board at the Department of Communication of the University of Vienna.

Vera has extensive experience in conducting research in closed/authoritarian political environments, highly volatile conflict/post-conflict settings, and in the context of war. Her spheres of expertise in research and teaching comprise international security and conflict management, cross-border transfer of values, norms and practices, as well as crisis knowledge production and policy evaluation. Vera’s areas of specialisation in methods include reflexive interviewing, expert and elite interviews, focus groups, ethnographic fieldwork in challenging and sensitive contexts, research ethics, and data management.

Vera has offered methods training in these areas at various universities across the globe, including the University of Birmingham, George Washington University, Justus-Liebig University Giessen, German-Kazakh University, University of Latvia, University of Tartu, and as part of the pre-conference workshop series for early career researchers at the European Society for Central Asian Studies (ESCAS) Conference 2023.

Read more about Vera's research here and here.

Key topics covered

Day 1: Preparing for the field – risk and data management

The first session will provide you with a general introduction to field research and delve into planning and practical preparation for fieldwork, including ethical and legal considerations. It will further centre on preliminary risk assessment and mitigation, data management plan, and preparing for the Ethics Committee review.

Day 2: Ethnographic methods in the field

During this session, you will cover the specifics of conducting participant observation, ethnographic interviewing, and gathering life histories in conflict-torn and closed political settings, including questions related to navigating unfamiliar and insecure environments (continuous risk assessment and mitigation),researcher positionality, the study of (and work around) sensitive topics, fieldwork in collaboration with local research assistants and interpreters, and data documentation.

Day 3: Expert and elite interviews in difficult contexts

During this session, you will cover both theoretical and practical aspects of conducting expert and elite interviews and how they serve to equip the participants with a solid understanding of the opportunities and challenges of using these methods for qualitative data generation in difficult political environments. You will familiarise yourself with the main principles of structuring interview guidelines, sampling, getting access to relevant interviewees, interviewing strategies and techniques, and immediate ‘post-preparation’ of interviews. The emphasis will be placed on expert and elite interviews in an insecure field, dealing with critical situations in interviews touching upon sensitive topics, and raising awareness of and navigating public surveillance in authoritarian environments.

Day 4: Group interviews and focus groups

In this session, you will cover the main questions related to planning, preparing and conducting group interviews and focus groups in international contexts, including sampling strategies, securing access and recruiting participants, facilitating and moderating group discussions, and documenting the results as well as the main Dos and Don’ts in using these methods in authoritarian and conflict-torn settings. You will be made aware of the differences between focus groups and group interviews, provided with the understanding of these methods’ limitations in challenging research environments, and familiarise yourself with the mechanisms for protection of the researchers and research participants in an insecure field.

Day 5: Leaving the field and possible return

The final session will centre on the specifics of recurring fieldwork in challenging environments, securing the possibility to return, participatory aspects of field research, and potentially adapting research design, including the use of alternative methods for data collection in case on-the-ground fieldwork becomes impossible. With this, you will make a full circle by reiterating the importance of recurring risk assessment and adapting mitigation strategies throughout the data collection in the field.

How the course will work online

Live classes will be held daily for three hours on Zoom, allowing you to interact with both the instructor and other participants in real-time.

The course combines pre-class assignments, such as readings and pre-recorded videos, with daily live online sessions.

In the live sessions, the instructor will provide you with short inputs complementing the readings and based on the insights from the instructor’s own field research. The inputs will be accompanied by interactive discussions in plenum and collaborative group exercises in breakout rooms.

You will be encouraged to reflect and exchange on your individual challenges in preparing for the fieldwork with the aim to reinforce the understanding of possible ethical, security and other risks that may arise in the field.

Over the duration of the course, it will be possible to have one-on-one consultations with your instructor, which will offer an additional opportunity for feedback and guidance on your individual research project.

If you are interested in acquiring 4 ECTS for the course, you will be asked to prepare a risk assessment and mitigation plan for your own envisaged field research.

Some familiarity with research design and qualitative research methods would be beneficial, but by no means a requirement for participation and the successful completion of the course. Participants, who are preparing for field research but have no or only limited experience in doing fieldwork, will profit from this course the most. Participants will be expected to commit approx. 3 hours in preparation for each session, which includes readings and practical assignments.


This course description may be subject to subsequent adaptations (e.g. taking into account new developments in the field, participant demands, group size, etc.). Registered participants will be informed at the time of change.

By registering for this course, you confirm that you possess the knowledge required to follow it. The instructor will not teach these prerequisite items. If in doubt, please contact us before registering.