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.
Clear visuals are the key to successful surveys
We were conducting a field study with children wherein we had to show them a few placards and collect the necessary information. 

On the first day, we had the placards in our respective devices. As a result of limitations of size, the images were too small which led to utter confusion among children and unclear responses. 

From the following day onwards, we kept the placards in the form of flip charts in spiral-bound sheets for the children to be able to easily recognize the image and give prompt and clear responses. This technique also helped us in getting children to participate more enthusiastically in the survey since they found the pictures very attractive and thoroughly enjoyed looking at them. 

Lesson learned: Ensure that the means used for data collection are in a proper and understandable manner before starting any survey. 

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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. 

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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.


We recently did a psychometric study for the University of Virginia on Environment, travel, and well-being in Delhi.  The study tried to understand how the residents of Delhi feel about their surroundings and environment.

Enumerator: “Where would you like to live in Delhi?”

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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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