Cross-cultural Research with Children

Cross-Cultural Research with Children: Negotiating the Labyrinth of Institutional (Ethics) Review Boards (IRBs) through Proactive Partnerships

Doing research with children in multiple countries is rewarding, but also challenging. For many scholars, one particular challenge involves working with institutional review boards (IRBs), independent ethical review boards designed to protect human subjects.  Over time, IRBs developed norms for consent, assent, confidentiality, and privacy, among other concerns that provide standard protocols for research practices. For example, in the United States, children under the age of 18 are considered minors. In almost all research situations, informed consent standards require that in addition to receiving verbal or written assent from the children themselves, the parents or guardians of the children must provide written consent as well.  Although parental consent may be waived in certain situations, this waiver is rare and another protection mechanism for children must be provided.

Unfortunately, this standard protocol does not always translate across countries. Different countries approach guardianship as well as the practice(s) of research differently, creating a number of challenges during our IRB submission. We learned these challenges the hard way when doing research on children’s conceptualizations of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) careers in 4 countries. At the end of the project, we had gathered data from over 400 Pre-K through 4th grade children (typically ages 4 – 10, some as young as 3) in four countries (Belgium, China, Lebanon, and the United States); however, getting IRB approval for all 4 countries took almost a year because what is typical in the U.S. for data collection with children is not always typical elsewhere. Ethical practice requires contextual understanding. Accordingly, we were asked and had to figure out how to communicate and document these cultural differences to our U.S. IRB in ethical research a manner that allowed them to achieve their central objectives even as the protocols—from their initial perspective—looked different from what they considered “typical” for research such as ours. (Certainly anthropologists, sociologists, and other scholars who have historically and routinely engaged in cross-cultural or international research have successfully addressed such challenges; however, the increasing global economy and interest in global and intercultural scholarship has extended these challenges to a broader array of disciplines that may be less familiar with how cross-cultural research complicates research logistics even as it can enhance research richness).

A graduate student at the time of this research, the process of working with IRB through this process, while at times frustrating, taught me—and my colleagues (Dr. Lorraine Kisselburgh, then a graduate student, and Dr. Patrice Buzzanell, the PI and originator of the project)—a lot about some of the logistical nuances of cross-cultural research, data collection with children, and working with ethical review boards. Our hope is that the examples from our research will help you anticipate potential miscommunications and resistance to cultural differences so that we can gain the cross-cultural and lifespan benefits that come from studies such as this. An unintended benefit of this process, was the opportunity we had to communicate and partner with IRB personnel to expand cross-cultural understandings of particular cultural practices and norms in terms of parenting and guardianship as well as conducting research.

In all 4 countries, we recruited children through local schools. In the United States, in addition to school board, principal, and teacher permission, we gathered consent and assent forms from every participating student, consistent with typical U.S. IRB protocols for young children.  This process worked similarly in Lebanon; however, we had to change the process for Belgium and China.  In Belgium, as soon as the child arrives at school each morning, guardianship transfers to school officials. This means that if there is a medical emergency or a research request, the administrator(s) and/or teachers can authorize action. Guardianship thus transfers from parents to school administrators and back during the day. Parents do not have to be contacted. Parental consent for research also operates differently in China.  Here—at the elementary schools affiliated with universities—parental consent for research conducted in the elementary schools was only required for biomedical research (e.g., drawing blood). Since our research involved questions such as “what do you want to be when you grow up?,” our Chinese collaborators informed us that sending letters home and requesting parental consent would have caused undue concern among the parents, violating a primary goal that the typical parental consent process was intended to fulfill.

As one might imagine, it took a while to work through the standardized IRB processes that are not set up to deal with research situations like ours. The lack of inclusion of parental consent forms for the protocols for Belgium and China were initially questioned. The idea of guardianship and therefore the authority of consent transferring out of the control of parents based on context was foreign to the administrative assistants responsible for the initial review of our IRB applications. After a few unsuccessful emails, we met in person with IRB assistants and decision makers to work through the details of crafting a protocol that was culturally sensitive, consistent with U.S. human subjects requirements, and met overall research goals.  In addition to guardianship concerns, for data collection in Belgium and China, we were partnering with non-U.S. colleagues to collect the data as none of us spoke either Flemish or Mandarin. As a result, there were a number of initial concerns from IRB administrative staff, given recent reports of research abuses within and outside of the U.S., that all research personnel be familiar with and follow the ethical principles around which U.S. IRB orient. However, talking through their concerns and ours helped. Even with the incredible volume and hard work these IRB staff experience daily, they worked diligently with us through rounds of meetings and letters to find appropriate ways to address the cross-cultural differences that complicate understandings and applications of human subject protections.

The communication strategy we found most successful involved teasing out IRBs specific goals and finding reasonable ways to fulfill human subject goals and achieve our research goals. In addition to documenting how research and guardianship worked in the Belgium and China, we were initially asked to provide signed documents on letterhead from high level government or education officials who could attest to this as the national norm, in English or written in the national language and then translated into English by an independent, verified translator. Needless to say, we as researchers did not have access to high government officials.  So we negotiated again, explaining our dilemma and asking: “Can you tell us the purpose of this particular letter/document?” Once we understood their purpose, we were able to provide letters from different, more accessible sources. For example, for our data collection in Belgium, we had the head of a university ethics board write a letter approving our research protocol as consistent with national and university norms. In China, we were able to find a university official who could provide similar documentation. In both cases, we also helped the letter writers understand the purpose and perspective of the IRB, so that they could tailor their letters appropriately.

So when I do a study like this again, I would work harder to anticipate the perspective of the IRB, informing them about the different cultural protocols with appropriate documentation, talking with the IRB in advance, and leaving lots of time to work through all the details. Specifically, I would recommend that I/you:

1)    Think like the IRB. Be sure you understand the goals and objectives of IRB generally, and your IRB personnel specifically. Set-up your application to meet their goals in language they understand. In addition to the human subjects protections, increased threats of legal liability and negative press increase pressures to avoid anything potentially problematic. Show them why it is not a problem, from their perspective—whether your audience is the initial gatekeepers or the full board. Before you submit your application, see #2.

2)    Be proactive and initiate a partnership. If your study is going to deviate from the national (or institutional) norm, and you have good reasons for doing so, talk to IRB personnel in advance. IRB personnel can often help you know what language to use and/or what documentation to provide. Even when you are frustrated by what seems to be administrative hoop-jumping, rather than human subjects protection, keep the goals in sight: protecting human subjects while getting rich, cross-cultural, lifespan data. It may not always seem that way, but you’re on the same team. Go into the meeting knowing your key objectives, your best understanding of theirs, and ask questions to help you understand the specific obstacles. As more researchers complete cross-cultural work with minors, these new understandings of cultural differences will become part of institutional memory, but it takes time, especially with the regular turnover of IRB boards.

3)    Leave time. Lots of time. Start early and be persistent. As we worked through each country, one-by-one, we were able to begin gathering data, so we started to see the rewards of all these logistical efforts. Not anticipating the challenges, including a number of others not listed here (e.g., school board review timelines, anti-research teachers, different interview approaches), delayed access to the data, but we got the data, and we’re better prepared for the next collection.

4)    Be strategic. And as a graduate student or tenure-track professor: When you get the chance to do a logistically complicated study like this, do it (but we wouldn’t necessarily recommend it for the dissertation), you’ll learn a lot. Have other, complementary research projects that give you access to data that doesn’t require the same logistical overhead.

Although only one part of the logistical story of collecting data across countries with children, it, along with our other research adventures, provided a complement to formal education that few experiences could match.

Dr. Brenda L. Berkelaar
in consultation with Dr. Lorraine Kisselburgh & Dr. Patrice M. Buzzanell


Dr. Brenda L. Berkelaar (Ph.D. Purdue University) is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication Studies at The University of Texas at Austin, where she does research on work, careers, and new technologies/new media. Dr. Lorraine Kisselburgh, is an Assistant Professor in Brian Lamb School of Communication at Purdue University, and conducts research on intersections of organization, technology, and gender and difference. Dr. Patrice M. Buzzanell, the P.I. and originator of the research study is a professor in the Brian Lamb School of Communication at Purdue University who researches career, leadership, and work-life issues, particularly relating to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math disciplines).

More details on our research process are addressed in a chapter earlier presented to the 2009 Chinese Communication Association Convention and published as:

Kisselburgh, L.G., Berkelaar, B.L., & Buzzanell, P.M. (2010). Collaborative research in global contexts: Institutional and ethical synergies. In Communication in e-Society: Innovation, collaboration and responsibility (pp. 69-84). Shanghai, China: Shanghai People’s Publishing House.

If you are interested in some of the results of the study, recent publications include:

Buzzanell, P. M., Berkelaar, B. L., & Kisselburgh, L.G. (2012). Expanding understandings of mediated and human socialization agents: Chinese children talk about desirable work and career. China Media Research, 8(1), 1-14.

Berkelaar, B. L., Buzzanell, P. M., Kisselburgh, L. G., Tan, W., Shen, Y. (2012).  “First, it’s dirty. Second, it’s dangerous. Third, it’s insulting”: Chinese children talk about dirty work. Communication Monographs, 79(1), 93-114. doi: 10.1080/03637751.2011.646490

Buzzanell, P. M. (2011). Interrogating culture. Intercultural Communication Studies, 20(1), 1-16.

Buzzanell, P. M., Berkelaar, B. L., & Kisselburgh, L. K. (2011). From the mouths of babes: Exploring families’ career socialization of young children in China, Lebanon, Belgium, and the United States, Journal of Family Communication, 11(2), 148-164. doi:10.1080/15267431.2011.554494

Kisselburgh, L., Berkelaar, B. L., & Buzzanell, P. M. (2009). Discourse, gender, and the meanings of work: Rearticulating science, technology, and engineering careers through communicative lenses. In C. Beck (Ed.), Communication yearbook 33 (pp. 258-299). New York: Routledge.

We are grateful for collaborations and assistance  from colleagues throughout the world, especially including Wufeng Tan (China), Yiwen Shen (China), Steven Eggermont (Belgium), Abrar Hammoud (USA), Rebecca Dohrman (USA), and countless others who helped with data collection, transcription, and translation.

Lifelong learning-collaborative opportunity

As Managing Director of CEFRO, LLC based in Nice, France, I am looking for partnership and support for a training project designed to build and expand the reach of Adult Education and Lifelong Learning Programs in an international context. The project could be a basis for an international collaborative research in that field.

Developed as Lifelong Learning Training Courses for adults (provider for the European Program called Grundtvig), the project aims to provide continuing education in social and technology integration, with an emphasis on creating healthy, balanced and enriching workplaces. Since 2008, CEFRO provided courses for that European Lifelong Learning Program, and created four original and unique courses: “Enriching and diversifying the training environment”, “Balanced and healthy workplaces”,”Learning strategies for the elderly”, “Developing Emotional Intelligence in the workplace”. Additionally, it organized ten course sessions with participants from Austria, Bulgaria, Finland, Germany,Italy, Spain, and Romania.

The urgent purpose of my request for support is to maintain CEFRO’s current activity and status, in order to pursue projects on the field of science and society. CEFRO is looking for a potential international collaborator/an international research team, who is the beneficiary of a research grant and may be interested in to sharing their work with a partner/sub-contractor.

For basic information, please, find below the original document of CEFRO LLP Plan and my CV, and feel free to contact me for additional information.

Thank you for your consideration.
Kind regards,
Carmen Serghie Lopez, Ph.D
CEFRO-Conseil, échanges, formation
Nice 06000-FR
Tél./Fax: +33(0)4 93 79 80 20
Mobile +33(0)6 12 19 16 98

U Cyprus 2nd language teaching

The University of Cyprus (School of Modern Greek) is looking for partners for an international research project with the provisional title “Development of training courses for second language teaching”. In case you are interested in being a partner in the below described project or if you would like to have more information please contact Dr. Anna Kyritsi at: until December 5, 2011 if possible.

Partners can be institutions of higher education, adult education institutions, teacher training institutions or similar from EU and non EU countries. The working language will be English while the results of the project will be translated in all partner languages. An application for funding will be submitted to the EU Life Long Learning program under the 2012 call for multilateral projects. The deadline for submission is 2/2/2012 and at least 3 partners from EU countries are needed for the consortium.

Project description
The project duration will be 2 years starting in October 2012.

The first task will be to conduct research into second language teaching in adult education as opposed to foreign language teaching. The aim of this research will be to define the sociolinguistic and pedagogical issues with which teachers of second language are confronted eg. the role of language for successful integration, the acquisition of skills for intercultural communication, the social status and the learning experiences of the learners, the teaching of groups of mixed language and ability.

After defining the area of second language teaching and the special needs of teachers in this area the project will develop a framework for a course for teacher training in the subject as well as for In-service-training courses on special subjects for teachers already active in the field. This framework will then be adapted by each partner institution according to the individual situation of the country it resides in and on the basis of these adaptations trial courses will be conducted.

The next step of the project will be to develop a train-the-trainer course in order to secure that there will be qualified persons who will conduct the above mentioned teacher training courses in future. Finally the project will set up a framework for the accreditation of qualifications for second language teaching on a European level.

We would particularly be interested in cooperating with institutions working in similar linguistic environments. The main linguistic variety on the island of Cyprus is the Cypriot Greek dialect, which is widely spoken in most communicative settings. Teaching standard modern Greek as a second language in such a linguistic environment presents additional challenges for the language teacher, which we intend to address as part of the training program.

Indicative time schedule

October 2012 Start
November 2012 Kick off meeting – Project planning
December 2012-March 2013 1st phase – Research
March 2013 2nd meeting and publication of results on the project’s website
April 2013-August 2013 Development of teacher training courses  – trial courses (phase 1) – evaluation
September 2013 3rd meeting – evaluation of the process
September 2013 – January 2014 Development of teacher training courses – trial courses (phase2) – evaluation
Development of train the trainer course
February 2014 4th meeting – evaluation of the process
Conference – project presentation and results
February 2014 – June 2014 Summing up of project
Framework for training accreditation of training
July 2014  5th meeting – final evaluation / writing of final report
September 2014 End of project

Univ San Ignacio, Peru

We at the Center for American Education and the Department of Communications at the Universidad San Ignacio de Loyola in Lima, Peru are looking to expand our North American degree offerings. We are currently accepting proposals for partnering institutions for our dual degree program in Communication Studies or Mass Communications.

Currently, we have an agreement with the University of South Florida to offer both Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Business Administration (they are ranked among the top 25 public universities in the US in this field), and have recently concluded an agreement with the University of Houston (ranked among the top 5 in this discipline) to offer a BS in Hotel Management.

This partnership essentially provides an international annex campus for a state university in the US and allows us to extend our presence in the English-language world of Peruvian education. We pay a fee to the university based upon the number of students in the cohort. Our students leave with degrees from both USIL and the partnering institution. All faculty members of the programs we currently offer are SACS and AACSB-accredited in their respective disciplines.  Additionally, our US-based partner institutions have the opportunity to send faculty to our campus at regular intervals to teach the courses in their specialization.

Below, please find links to the CAE and departmental web pages:

We will have a representative at NCA in November as well if you are interested in discussing the program outlined above in person.

For more information contact:
Dr. Anthony Spencer
Department of Communications
AnneLiese Busch
Center for American Education

Dialogue in Cross-cultural Perspective

“Dialogue” is what Anna Wierzbicka (2006) has called a key cultural term. It is pervasive in its use, rich in its meanings, and dense in the morality for conduct its use brings with it. We can hear calls for dialogue in multiple academic and public discourses. Over the past few years, conferences have asked us to reflect upon dialogue, or to engage in it, especially with the phrase, “Intercultural Dialogue.” The European Union has declared our time as a time for “Intercultural Dialogue.” As a result, “dialogue” has become prevalent, prominent, and potent in its meanings, and in its declaration of a preferred form for the conduct of communicative action. Who, indeed, would be against “dialogue”?

In the United States, we have been asked to engage in a Dialogue on Race, on Education, and indeed about what it is to be “an American.” In spheres of activity where peoples are brought together, we are asked to reflect upon “dialogue” and the ways, including new ways of thinking about it, of engaging in it, especially with those different from or in conflict with us. We believe such pleas and calls for dialogue are important to heed. Yet also, we have discovered that each can bring with it very specific ideas about what this form of communication is. This project has been led by Donal Carbaugh (Massachusetts, USA) and has involved participants from several different languages and countries including Xinmei Ge (China), David Boromisza-Habashi (Hungarian), Elena Khatskevich Nuciforo (Russian), Saila Poutiainen (Finland), Makato Saito (Japan), Dong-shin Shin (Korea), among others. We  found that “dialogue” is of course valued as a type of social action, yet the type of action being valued varies by the goals being targeted, by implicit rules for conduct, by what was deemed proper as its tone, mode, and interactional structure. Different moral qualities are brought into play when pleas are made to “Come and Engage in a Dialogue.” Because of this, especially when people speak from different cultural circumstances, and different languages, one plea for “dialogue” may not match another, with strained relations, confusion, misapprehension, misattribution of intent and so on resulting. Equally difficult are circumstances when people are speaking the same language, increasingly English, but use that language differently all the while believing they are saying a similar thing.

This has led us to ask: what exactly is being targeted as people call for Dialogue? What form of social interaction is being requested? What motives for, and meanings of such action are at play? Our work has taken a look at several linguistic clusters related to “dialgoue” in order to ask: Is there something like “dialogue” in each, as a cultural concept and as a form of practice? The research explores each as an expressive system-in-use by examining both the relevant terms relating to dialogue in these languages and the practices referenced with those terms. Some preliminary findings are that these cultural discourses, considered together, reveal a wide variety of possibilities that are active when “dialogue” is being advocated, mentioned, and translated. Our latest publication is in the special issue of the Journal of International and Intercultural Communication on Dialogue co-edited by colleagues Prue Holmes (Durham, UK) and Shiv Ganesh (Waikato, NZ).

(Submitted by Donal Carbaugh)

Translations of research instruments

The following message about collaborative research comes from Prof. Dale Hample at the University of Maryland:

“Hello.  Several of us here at Univ Maryland are getting involved in some large scale international collaborations and an immediate problem is moving our standard English instrumentation into other languages.  We will do it, of course, but I think it’s problematic that we don’t have a community repository of such instruments.  I am willing to put one on the web, and so I’m soliciting contributions.

Our own most immediate need is for versions of the argumentativeness and verbal aggressiveness scales in Chinese and Spanish.  We’re particularly interested in instruments bearing on arguing, conflict, cultural variables (self-construals, etc.), and interpersonal measures.  However, we’ll put up any instruments of general interest to communication researchers.

Ideally, we’d like this material:
1. A copy of the non-English instrument, along with an indication of what English language instrument it corresponds to (perhaps with a citation).
2. Please identify not only the language but also the country it was developed for, if possible (e.g., Spanish phrasing might be pretty different in Spain and Guatemala).
3. An indication of whether the instrument was back-translated, or merely translated.  Or an indication that the instrument was newly developed in that non-English speaking country.  (I assume that the accompanying papers will describe the translation/development methodology; if not, please summarize it.) 4. Copies of any unpublished papers that made use of the instrument, and either copies of or citations to any published papers that used it.
5. The formal name of whoever did the work, so that you (or someone
else) can be properly credited.
6. Contact information for the researchers in case people want to correspond.

I suspect that there are many instruments in the appendices of theses and dissertations, or buried on hard drives.  Please hunt around.  We’ll put up scans and pdfs if you can’t get materials into MS Word.

If you know of an instrument that has been published elsewhere, just send us the citation.”

Dale Hample
Dept. Communication
Univ. Maryland
College Park MD 20742

Originally published to CRTNET, on June 1, 2011.

Esin Sultan Oğuz


Esin Sultan Oğuz writes: “I’m working on developing multicultural library and information services for the British immigrants in Didim (-a sea side town in Turkey). For this purpose, between July and November I’ll carry on my post phd study in UCL Department of Information Management.

If there is anyone who is interested in this subject I also want to say in the near future I want to develop an EU project on this subject. Also I’m open for joint researches and projects as well.

The project description follows:

Developing Multicultural Library and Information Services for the Foreign Population in Turkey: A Project Addressed to European Immigrants in Didim

In recent years, there has been an increase in immigration to Turkey, mostly from Europe. Although the number of immigrants to Turkey is undeniably on the rise, there is no short or long term plan to integrate a multicultural library and information services into immigrant communities, thus necessitating the current study. Moreover, the international literature is replete with studies focusing on the integration of minorities including Muslim and Turkish populations into the European library system. However, research on the converse (integrating European populations into the Turkish library system) is virtually non-existent. The latter is especially important given the growing sensitivity with respect to the four cornerstones of multiculturalism—equality, tolerance, understanding and diversity. The need for an overhaul of the Turkish library system with the aim of making it more immigrant-friendly can no longer be overlooked given the immigrant ratio in the country. As Rasmussen and Kolarik have stated, the notion of equality implies equal access to resources and services available in the community. As it stands right now, foreigners in Turkey are at a huge disadvantage with respect to equal access to resources.

The goal of this project is to assist in the development of mutual understanding and tolerance among the various ethnic, linguistic and cultural groups in Turkey by establishing a framework for a multicultural library. Clearly, such a library would be conducive to cross-cultural exchange as it would serve as a locale where both immigrants, and Turks, could share their traditions, learn more about one another, and exchange experiences. Turkish multicultural libraries could also sponsor leisure activities, continuing education courses, and provide immigrants with access to useful legal information (the latter is especially important since there are no embassies and consulates outside of Ankara and Istanbul).

Didim, a small town located in southern Turkey near Aydin, has been selected as the location for this study due to its large European (specifically British) population. The number of immigrants in Didim has consistently risen since 2000, reaching a total of approximately 4000 individuals by 2011.”

Esin Sultan Oğuz, PhD.
Hacettepe University
Department of Information Management
Ankara, Turkey

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