By Namrata Mehta, with Deepani Seth and Divya Datta
In the past 3 months, CKS has traveled to 7 countries, some culturally similar to India and some not so similar. Each however has had it’s own distinct field environment that in turn impacted our experiences there. Keeping expected language barriers and gender limitations aside, there have been great advantages of conducting research in other locations.
Ghana, for example, although significantly different from India, shares a history of British colonization, resulting in English being spoken widely. So while language didn’t pose to be as much of a barrier as expected, neither did cultural differences, because in Ghana, as a researcher from India, no matter how hard you try, you will never (in the short time you are spending there) be an insider, and therefore be burdened with the expectations of strict social conduct.
At times being in foreign locations in the midst of unknown cultures, forces you to ask more questions without the biases or prejudices that you take to field when you are in familiar surroundings. It piques your curiosity to the extent that your research is never over with the completion of a protocol.
Unfortunate circumstances, also yield unexpected outcomes. When one of our researchers was rejected a visa to Pakistan, we developed a way of conducting interviews remotely. Over the phone, she supervised the interviews being conducting in person by a partner researcher (a vendor) in Pakistan. When we work with vendors, we invest the early days of our collaboration training them in our ways of conducting qualitative research. Whilst our field guides for interviews are exhaustive and yield invaluable insights, it is essential to observe and note the subtler aspects of a respondents behaviour – their body language, mannerisms, tone of voice and social interactions. These little nuances are most often lost in a transcript or audio recording, and therefore our researcher had to provide detailed instructions to the vendor on how to conduct the interview and how to the ask the right questions to elicit the quality and richness of information needed.
Improvising on field is a tactic that we use all the time, but almost unconsciously so. This example shows just how much a part of our repertoire it is. Ultimately we are just people interacting with other people, getting to know them better, and the trick is figure out the best way to do so. While you can learn a lot through secondary research, the knowledge you gain by actually being there is so much more. Here’s hoping 2012 takes us to more places.