Disclaimer: Through this article, I do not wish to educate the reader about field planning; rather it is an experiential account of a novice learner in the field of data science and its usefulness in the social sector.
As an Economics major, I have spent a considerable amount of time learning about policy drafts and their implementation. I have used databases and statistical packages to run regression on highly complex variables only to arrive at conclusions that met the demands of the paper alone. Often, I found myself wondering about the composite structure of data, its procurement and how it serves as a fertile ground for policy change. In due time I realised that a holistic learning approach id needed much more than reading massive literature on data and instead, necessitated interaction with skilled researchers who ace the art of data collection and have been involved in the same as first-hand users and collectors.
Outline India is an organization that sincerely believes in enabling social impact through data. Inspiration runs rife in the work that it does and the impact that it creates and by all means, the place had my inquisitiveness. A neophyte in the field of data science, the common parlance sounded like a maze of technical mumbo jumbo and the people seemed very distant. However, in due course of time, I had caught up on the lingo and was seemingly enjoying the sheltered confines of this organisation.
One afternoon as my colleagues sat down to have lunch, I heard them reminisce about their days on the field – from hilarious accounts of getting ambushed by goats to getting sunburnt in Rajasthan. It was a treat to hear them speak so ardently about what they love doing the most. Their anecdotes had piqued my curiosity and I could not help but ask them about the things one should keep in mind before going on the field, the challenges that plague field operations, the most prevalent use of data collection and other things of the like. Their recollection of their field days is what prompted me to write this feature. So for the first time researchers and data collectors, below is a list of things to remember before you go on the field.
It is essential to have additional resources, for the field is an uncertain terrain. One should have a backing for mobile chargers, SIM cards, training material, clothes, food & water etc.
Preparedness is the key to successful field operation. One should make lists and create realistic schedules. It is wise to start early in the day to avoid last-minute hassles and it is imperative to return to the establishment before reasonable time has passed. It is unsafe to be out during the night.
The permission letters should always be kept handy.
Should any discomfort be felt, the interview is to be discontinued immediate effect and the enumerator are to leave the premise at the earliest.
Females and children ought not to be interviewed alone in closed rooms. They should always be accompanied by a member of their family or a female fieldworker.
At all points, the enumerator must have the contact details of the following:
c) At least one fieldworker (male and female)
d) Your colleagues
e) Hotel reception
carry a notebook and a pen to make notes. The memory starts losing detail within twenty-four hours.
While using recorders/tablets or any other digital devices, the following is to be kept in mind:
a. Ensure that they are switched off when not in use.
b. All devices are to be charged daily. Power situations may be tricky, hence, one should charge as time allows.
c. Ensure that devices are given out to field workers are capable of being tracked. The devices are to be collected on departure and it is to be ensured that they are in working condition upon receipt.
d. Ensure devices are being used only for research purposes and not for other activities.
The following is to be ensured when dealing with field staff:
a. Avoid being over-friendly with the field staff.
b. One meets new field members, whose background one is often oblivious about. Should something
appear as strange, the field supervisor and the team should be immediately informed.
c. Check and re-check the data from the first interview before proceeding to the second respondent.
d. All fields of the questionnaire should necessarily be filed.
In the event, that you do not have network connectivity, be accompanied by at least one team member at all points. (This is especially important for the female field workers.)
So that is all for now. I hope by means of this article, I have been able to reach to a few of you and aided you with your field woes.
Lakshita Arora is interning with Outline India.
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