“All research begins with a motivation, an interest in attempting to clarify a problem that is deemed important to understand, to know its causes. When writing and developing the first lines, delineate the topic and formulate the research problem; at the same time, state the questions you want answered and specify the research objectives. These first ideas should be written down and will become the components of a future research protocol or proposal (…). This protocol serves as kind of “flight plan,“ a roadmap that will guide the research. Approximately five pages long, it summarizes what you want to do, how and with whom, and what the sought-after results are.”1

But once you have specified what you want to know or understand, the process continues. Below is a summary of the research phases as per a publication by the International Indigenous Women’s Forum (FIMI-IIWF) intended for Latin American Indigenous women working against violence (refer to footnote 1). Although these phases are not exhaustive, following them will prove helpful when presenting a project to funding bodies or relevant community authorities.

  1. Delineate the topic, formulate the research problem or question.
  2. Write the proposal and discuss it with the team in the community. This will provide a portrait of the various stakeholders, shared interests and possible risks.
  3. Review the literature or research relevant documents that can provide a better understanding of the topic or research problem.
  4. Delineate the research proposal. To delineate a research problem, clearly define the overall objective (what you want to know) and specific objectives (the steps required to reach the overall research objective) that will serve as guidelines. These will change depending on the conditions and challenges encountered during the research.
  1. Present the expected results and prepare a research plan by defining methodological strategy and data collection techniques.
  2. Prepare a work plan and timetable for data collection.
  3. Produce a report and present the research results including its successes and challenges. Research results do not necessarily have to be presented in a research paper; their presentation can take other forms.

Writing a research proposal

1-Delineate the research topic: generally speaking, what is the main topic? Before collecting data (that is, the information needed to answer the research question), clearly define what is being investigated and break down the different issues arising from it. With collaborative research, this process is done in a team and in collaboration with the community involved in order that research questions answer needs identified by the community.

2-Researcher’s Posture: can the community researcher remain neutral? Should she remain neutral? How should she position herself in the community?
Factors to consider: consider your position as researcher in relation to the family clans and the different groups and interests in the community. What are the clans or groups in my community? Do certain groups have more power than others? What are their characteristics? Their strengths, their leaders? Are there tensions between them? What are the major issues? Are there people able to bring together the various groups? Who are they? Is it important for my research to have every group’s opinion and participation? If yes, why? If no, why not? Who should absolutely participate in the research? How can I ensure that tensions, if any exist, do not prevent various groups from participating in the research? These considerations and the decision-making process must be undertaken in the most neutral way possible.

3-Research problem or question: what do you want to know or what problem do you want to solve? It should be narrow, specific and feasible. It should be a question that can be answered; therefore neither too vast nor too vague. The way information will be gathered will depend on the question. Consider also the context in which the question is being asked. Not all research aims to solve a problem, but all research has one or more questions.


Research on identity could start with the question: How do Indigenous women define their identity?

This is not a problem per se, it is a question. However, when delving further, it can be stated that the way women define themselves is not taken into account when the Canadian government decides who is or is not Indigenous. Therefore, a problem does in fact exist behind the question.

It is helpful to discuss these kinds of distinctions when formulating the research question. Is the question clear? Is it specific enough? Do all participants understand the question in the same way?

4-Research Hypothesis: a hypothesis highlights the relationship between concepts, but above all, it puts forward an explanation/answer to the question/problem.

The question above “How do Indigenous women define their identity?” does not put forward a hypothesis. However, it does not preclude the possibility of implicit or underlying hypotheses.

What is a concept? It is an umbrella term that covers several realities, ideas or perceptions that have something in common. For example, “horse.” The same word can be used for different realities or points of view. A butcher views a horse in a different light than a horse rider, veterinary or animal therapist. “Table” encompasses the kitchen table, as well as the bedside table or picnic table. Each is quite different from the other, yet we know they are all tables. Concepts allow knowledge to be organized in a coherent manner.


One hypothesis could be that women define their identity in a way that differs from the Canadian government. In this case, the information gathered would validate or invalidate that hypothesis. In this case also, the different ways of viewing the concept of identity would have to be defined, the one drawn from the experiences of the women and the one imposed by Canadian law.

5-Research issue: the research issue encompasses all the questions that will be asked and provides a framework to understand the data collected. It is a comprehensive view of the research question and the context in which it is being asked. It is this framework that provides meaning to the subsequent information collected.

The research issue determines the way a researcher perceives and understands the context justifying her research project and the topic or topics that interest her. It is the picture made by the pieces of the puzzle. Without a picture to guide the placement of pieces, it is harder to do a puzzle. The research issue need not be fully decided from the outset, nor is it immutable. It can evolve as the research progresses. In fact, it is important to remain flexible and to question yourself when information does not fit into the picture or vision first set.

Factors to consider: in an Indigenous context, collective rights, Man/Woman and Human/Nature complementarity, and harmony must all be considered.


When embarking on research on identity, we already have specific ideas and positions on the subject: Indigenous identity as stated in the “Indian Act” is an expression of Canadian colonialism and is not necessarily indicative of the historical and cultural perceptions of Indigenous women. From a decolonization perspective, we will examine how the two perspectives differ.

Not all researchers share this perspective of decolonization. Others may have other positions that would lead them to select and understand the information collected in a different way. However, in the case of researchers who took for granted that the identity of Indigenous women is as defined in the “Indian Act”, they would probably not ask: “How do Indigenous women define their identity?” There is often a relationship between the way a question is asked and the researcher’s positions or biases.

Once you have defined the research question, reflected on what is at issue and reaffirmed the research guiding principles, the time has come to identify the best methodology suited for the research process, to collect data, and to analyze and disseminate the results. These latter phases are the subject of separate sections.

Research Phases

Ensure Indigenous principles are part of the reflection from the outset of the research project;

Take into account your position in the
community and see how it could influence the course of your research.