October 21, 2021

The Framing Makes the Field – How we research gender lens investing matters

By Arianna Muirow

Observing the chaos caused by the recent polarization of news and obfuscation of “facts,” we are reminded of the power held by the legitimation and amplification of information. Even among allies driven by the best of intentions there are dynamics of power, and subsequent repercussions, in the ways that data is collected and packaged and shared. The process of how knowledge is developed is important. That is why this fall 2021 Criterion Institute is launching a new program to assess and improve the research processes within the gender lens investing field.   This summer, as a prelude to launching this program, we conducted an initial sampling of regional and global gender lens investing landscape reports, all published in the last decade, to get a sense of the current research processes that stand behind how the field is being framed. This initial analysis yielded a few unsurprising findings. One, the definition of gender lens investing is not uniform in its activities or approach, allowing agencies or firms to bend the scope of the field to suit their activities or needs rather than move toward a consistent field-level goal. Two, the methodologies used in these landscape reports are extremely varied and generally less than transparent. How can we as a field trace our growth or measure our success if our methods of measurement are inconsistent and/or unavailable to all? Finally, a majority of these reports tend to be about the development of the field in the Global South but be researched and written by organizations or firms based in the Global North. This model of research raises concerns about silencing and marginalizing the communities at the center of the development of the field.   Yet, despite these flaws in the research process, for many of us these landscape reports have come to represent the state of the gender lens investing field.  As the field of gender lens investing has evolved over the last decade, so too have approaches to research and attention to power structures in the development of knowledge. It is time for us leaders in gender lens investing to take a step back and take a deep and long look at how the research we are doing and sharing about the field is in fact working to shape the field – and note what we are measuring, whose voices are missing, and how this process can be improved.   Criterion’s new Research Processes Program takes a hard look at the power dynamics involved within the gender lens investing research processes (including our own). We ask: Who is driving this research process? Who is funding and conducting this research? Who is and who isn’t being included? How does this shape how gender lens investing opportunities are framed?  Think of the last landscape report that you read. Did it reference the same old characters you are used to seeing? Was the methodology transparent? Which activities were and weren’t included (and why)? Whose voices were missing?   Being the organization that we are, our goal is not only to ask these questions, but to address them. Over the coming years we will be working to develop best practices for research in the field and equipping a range of different types of organization, located all over the world, to contribute their insight to these best practices.  

Thoughts? Reactions? Interested in participating in this journey with us? Email muirow@ to get involved or learn more.

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