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8. Preparing for fieldwork - obtaining access, gatekeepers and participants

Gaining appropriate and clear access to the site or environment that will form the field from the appropriate individuals must be completed before formal data collection can begin. You need to be able to provide a clear account of the impact that your presence and research is likely to have.

Gatekeepers, key informants or personal contacts are essential to gaining access to the field. Gatekeepers have the power to grant or refuse access, so establishing good rapport with them whilst planning fieldwork is important.

Gatekeepers can help to ensure smooth and easy access when data collection begins. The researcher should however, also consider the gatekeeper's relationship to other participants and how the relationship between the gatekeeper and participants may influence participants' engagement with the researcher, especially if the gatekeeper is in a position of power.

The field researcher must also establish rapport and build trust with research participants by meeting and having conversations with them over a period of time. This ensures that participants feel secure sharing personal and sensitive information with the researcher. The researcher should aim to be as unobtrusive as possible. Decisions about the amount the researcher participates in the setting, how to dress and where to record fieldnotes can all influence researcher-participant relationships.

Policeman with hand up in stop motion - restricting access.

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