Collecting data for different projects, in different communities, across different countries is exactly that — different! So as a researcher or programme evaluator you may have an image in your mind as to how data collection should go down. With the best planning you remember all your equipment, and anticipiate gaining access to communities and participants relatively easily, with participants interested in the study and understanding the questions they must answer. But this is not always the case and flexibility and creativity are required.
The Creative Consulting & Development Works (CC&DW) team recently completed fieldwork for a project that aims to determine whether film can be used as a health education tool for youth. As part of our fieldwork, the team screened a film focusing on tuberculosis to over 2000 youth in urban, peri-urban and rural areas in South Africa (specifically Gauteng and Western Cape) and Lesotho. This translated into screening the movies, The Lucky Specials and Inside Story, almost 100 times to groups of 20+ youth at a time, at 100+ different venues.
At first the task seemed almost impossible, but with good experience, a lot of ambition and thorough planning, the fieldwork teams headed off to Johannesburg and Maseru respectively. From kick-off, the fieldwork posed challenges, including:
Films were screened in a range of venues (school halls, churches, containers and NGO buildings) – not all were dark enough for participants to see the movie. The research team had to think creatively and cover windows, doors and any glimpse of daylight with black bags, blankets and newspapers (sourced from the venue and/or surrounding community)
The CC&DW team were excited to provide participants with popcorn and juice, to create a real movie setting – but in Lesotho the team couldn’t find popcorn and in South Africa the team had too much popcorn. The packets of popcorn ordered were massive and the fieldworkers had to make numerous trips from point A to B to get popcorn to data collection sites. Storage space was needed for the popcorn!
The team knew roads in Lesotho were going to be bad…but didn’t realise just how bad they were. At some sites researchers had to park and carry equipment (i.e. 50+ packets of chips, 50+ juices, 100+ paper surveys, 50+ pens, a projector, a laptop, and 2 speakers) for quite a distance covering jeep track where not even Jeeps would have been able to drive – but the team did it and in most cases called in the help of the participants, who assisted in great spirit.
The research team learnt a lot from this project and the data collection phase. However, one of the most noteworthy learnings was that the resilience the team were researching and looking for in the project participants, is exactly the resilience the team needed in the field, and a skill set crucial to the development sector.
“This project was a huge learning curve. You have to stay calm, collected and pleasant under pressure. But it’s amazing what you can get done with the help of the community” – Fatima Mathivha, CC&DW fieldwork coordinator.
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