Cautionary Tales

Being on field is an adventure in itself. All field missions are unique, bringing strange, funny, and on occasions disturbing anecdotes to help us learn and grow as researchers.
Work over play any day
“Which of these do you usually play with?” asked our researcher, inviting the kid to come closer to have a look at the toys on display.

The kid, in the blink of an eye, picked one of the toys and fled the place. 

Were we able to get hold of him thereafter? There was no chance we could!

This is often the case when we are interviewing kids for a study. They are so enchanted by just anything lying around like stones, sticks, tyres, ropes, etc. that their focus most of the time is to only run away with such things and play.


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Are you buying me a house?
Often while doing fieldwork, we come across respondents who don’t understand the questionnaire and tend to interrogate more about the same. They usually find questions bizarre and challenging.



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Of Permutations and Permissions
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.


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Importance of scoping
We are taught to expect the unexpected when on the field. However, little did we expect what befell us in Araria, Bihar. Since our guide contained sensitive questions and the respondents were 15-19-year-old girls, we requested privacy to conduct our focus group discussions in the local primary school. However, the next day when we returned to the school, we were surrounded by a crowd of agitated villagers who refused to let us continue for fear that we may kidnap their children.

Eventually, after we managed to calm them down, we thoroughly explained the purpose of the study to them. However, the situation had spiraled to such an extent that we had to exit that village and drop it from our sample. It was only later that we found out that the reason for such animosity towards outsiders stemmed from an incident that had occurred a couple of months ago. Apparently, two young girls of the village were taken to Mumbai on the pretext of getting employment. Instead, their organs were harvested and they were sent back to the village on a train.

Lesson learned: We should have entered the village a day prior to our interviews and explained our study to the Pradhan. This would also have helped us gain the confidence of our respondents.


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