The first step to smooth data collection is to develop a well thought out and sound field plan. However, even meticulous planning cannot always prepare you for the curve-balls that are thrown your way when you are on the field. In such situations, thinking on your feet and improvising are the only ways to ensure that data collection progresses unhindered. Improvisation was our greatest tool in completing our fieldwork in North 24 Parganas district of West Bengal. However, we did learn a valuable lesson.
The greatest take away from our field experience in West Bengal was to never enter the field without all prerequisite permissions and clearances. The study was to understand the role played by elected representatives of Gram Panchayats in local governance and development. Due to the politically sensitive nature of this study in a politically volatile environment characterized by the polarization of parties, elected representatives in many of the Gram Panchayats expressed distrust, and suspicion towards the motives of such an exercise, refusing to consent to be surveyed in the absence of formal permission from local authorities. As such, we faced great difficulty on the field in meeting the initial sample requirements and had to modify our sampling strategy mid-way which had many operational and budgetary implications.
Lesson Learned: It is imperative to get requisite permissions from local bodies, as far as possible, before entering the field for data collection. While this may not be necessary for household studies, it is absolutely vital for studies that are politically sensitive.
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