Creative Consulting & Development Works

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How to conduct data collection in culturally sensitive communities

11 November 2016

Collecting fieldwork data has its challenges. Regardless of the context there is much logistical and technical work that goes into preparing and carrying out the task. To ensure successful and quality data collection it’s important that fieldworkers understand and are aware of the culture and tradition of the area where they will be working.

Creative Consulting & Development Works (CC&DW) ensures our fieldworkers understand and are aware of the local community dynamics. The importance of this came to light in recent fieldwork in northern KwaZulu-Natal where certain social aspects could have proved challenging.


The first hurdle was talking to parents of schoolchildren. It was crucial to use correct language. The local school facilitators advised CC&DW beforehand that some people, particularly grandmothers and grandfathers, might see certain words as offensive and disrespectful. Our study included topics about sex and sexual behavior and these are often not discussed between parents and children. Some of these words and conversations are viewed as ‘promiscuous’ conversation.

So fieldworkers faced the challenge of having to carefully maneuver their language when seeking the consent of the parents for participation in this research study. We made sure we conveyed everything about the study to parents. Our team used respectable language to avoid sounding like we would be exposing their children to adult themes.

The second possible hurdle was dress code, a very important issue for this community. Fieldworkers chose their clothes carefully for house visits, and always removed beanies or caps when speaking to elders.

These are just two of the very important issues to be cognisant of when engaging with communities. Its necessary for teams to familiarize themselves with such sensitivies and cultural factors before undertaking fieldwork.

Backgrouond research should be done in the exact community that the fieldwork will be conducted in. South African communities are not homogenous and it’s possible that similar communities might speak the same language but have completely different cultural practices.

The research should also be done by someone who understands the dominant language of a particular community. Most people feel more comfortable and open up when speaking to someone in their first language.

The importance of cultural sensitivity cannot be underestimated in any data collection scenario.


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