Also, a little Ryan Gossling and his thoughts on development. (Hat tip: KW)
I take off on Sunday for five months of fieldwork in Tanzania. This is what I'm bringing (and evidence of my chaotic packing process).
Also, a little Ryan Gossling and his thoughts on development. (Hat tip: KW)
I have discovered that my favorite part of writing my prospectus (oral preliminary defense on January 24!) is the literature review. Easily. It's also a little like planning a vacation on the internet.
I start with a reliable favorite, Ashraf, Field and Lee paper, which evaluates a family planning program in Zambia. This is basically like Vacation Rentals by Owner. I get really excited about three or four other published papers on population policy from their literature review, which is of course equivalent to the three or four rental vacation houses in Wisconsin. But then something about the mere notion of desired fertility Pritchett's PDR paper, which I traced from Ashraf's lit review, calls into question the idea of family planning programs altogether and then I'm reading about the intellectual history of economic development and epistemology of the word need. Meanwhile, VRBO and the month of January have together inspired the cross-country skier in my Minnesota blood and then I'm looking at the qualifications for signing up for the Berkie. Meanwhile, Melinda Gates' TED talk is playing in the background, I've downloaded two papers on microcredit marketing experiments and I'm reading unpublished ideas on job market websites of up-and-coming economic demographers.
I can't wait to write a whole dissertation (read: plan my trip to Kilimanjaro).
Christine Sierra O'Connell and Brooke Laura Krause are keeping us up to date as they both start fieldwork adventures in Brazil and Guatemala, respectively. It's surprisingly difficult to describe our nerdy research in succinct and accessible ways, so kudos for getting started, you two.
Also, with so many people doing fieldwork (or maybe just my friends... warning: selection bias), you'd think it was logistically easier to leave the university on some sort of 'fieldwork status.' Turns out there are a lot of forms to fill out and strange wavers to sign when you attempt to maintain active-student status without being at the university. With or without completed forms, I'm on my way to Tanzania in February for five months!
After weeks of programming, enumeration training and piloting, my workload has now reduced significantly. I’ve attempted to switch from micromanaging technical boss to African housewife who happens looks over the data when the enumerators return. I don't transition easily to housewife, but my colleagues brought back a live chicken from the village today, so I think I'm on my way. Anyway, a few things I’ve learned over the past two months and some unsolicited opinions:
- Electronic personal interviewing (or CAPI or PDA) is better than paper.
- Hiring enumerators who are currently unemployed makes the logistics of a flexible field schedule much easier, even if they have approval from their employer to take a leave.
- Young enumerators learn PDAs more quickly, but older enumerators speak the local language better and generally garner more trust.
- Headlamps are particularly useful. Especially when the power goes out and you still have two hours of programming left before the last day of enumeration training and exactly two hours of computer battery.
- Don’t lock the keys in the car.
- Using an external GPS connected via Bluetooth to a third party software is frustrating. It seems to work about 75% of the time. And despite all my best efforts to determine the problem, speak with three different customer service lines and learn all user manuals, the errors continue in a totally unsystematic way.
- Getting the sub-village leader to do every initial household introduction is worth having to drive him/her around: we have not (yet!) been refused from a single household.
-The best time to interview a household here (and during cotton harvest season) is morning or late afternoon, but there is no Subway on the corner where we can hang out while we wait.
- Programming and fully translating a household survey with ten sections (about 30 pages on paper) into electronic format takes about five weeks.
- Power converters are really important for electronic data collection, given that PDAs need to be charged about once every two days. Although converters are sold in Tanzania, the ones from the states are much higher quality. Same goes for batteries.
- The idea of sharing feedback and interesting facts from interviews during a debrief at the end of the day is a good one, but perhaps because I am viewed as a boss, and used to a very American- style of feedback learning, my enumerators are very hesitant to share anything except GPS problems. And of course, I'm asking questions in English and my colleagues are more comfortable in Swahili.
- Security guards are very important.
-Always format a flash drive after you’ve used it on a computer at an internet shop. This erases everything off the flash, including viruses.
- Looking at the data every single day after it has been synced is very useful for discovering both enumerator mistakes and programming errors.
- Nothing beats a moleskin and mechanical pencil.
Our team of five has been traveling to villages to conduct household interviews for the past two weeks of real, live data collection. Aside from the frustrating GPS issues (more later), things are going remarkably well.
One thing that’s been bugging me, though, is how to handle nutrition during a long day of enumeration. We have been able to do 6-10 households per day, starting at 8am and finishing around 3pm. During enumeration training, the project would pay for lunch for everyone and brains continued to function in the afternoon. However, out in these rural villages, there isn’t exactly a quick lunch stop on the corner. As a moderately-prepared American student, I keep Cliff Bars and filtered water in my backpack. But, my colleagues don’t usually eat until they return home at 3 or 4pm! This seems extremely painful to me, and they look exhausted at the end of the day when I load and check the data (and I'm sure it has NOTHING to do with how exciting it is to stare at numbers in a database).
But maybe I'm too quick to judge. After all, I actually have no idea how often they eat when they’ve had other jobs. And its true that lunch, or chakula cha mchana (meal of the afternoon) is usually much later in Tanzania than the usual American noontime lunch. Maybe my desire to keep enumerators well-fed falls into the category of feeling morally obligated to pay a high salary? It could be about brain fuel to prevent data errors or it could be about imposing my American-style work day norms. Unclear.
Anyway, I can stop trying to be such a foreign donor and be a bit more realistic about meals, but still, I wish they’d bring a snack to keep themselves sustained.
The word for moon in Kiswahili is the same as the word for month. Of course. And the word for sun is the same as the verb "to know." Poetic.
A point of confusion, however, is that the word for a woman is the same as the word for wife. In my mind, this stirs an entire debate on the identity of a woman. Anyway, a single woman is referred to as a daughter, which has led to some humorous encounters when I've responded to pseudo marriage proposals by stating that, yes, I have a mom and a dad.
The best language mix up is that the word for hot peppers is 'pilipili,' while the word for motorcycle is 'pikipiki.' I've amused several people by asking for motorcycles to accompany my eggs.
Although we stayed at a guesthouse for the first few weeks in Meatu while the contract was being negotiated, we finally moved into our actual house/office. The combination of the fact that we own a crazy amount of technology, that the house came with minimal furnishing and that no one really cares to decorate it means half our home looks like a barren storage room and the other half looks like a University office. The only major purchase was this lovely table/desk. The house has become a strange mix of cement flooring, teacups, PDAs, ants, flash drives, water buckets, to-do lists on graph paper, cardboard boxes, computers, extension cords, flies, peanut butter and the ever persistent dust.
Within a couple of hours of my arrival, the neighborhood kids realized a mzungu had landed and they hang around outside the gate now, ready to carefully observe me the minute I walk out the door. And about a week after we’d moved in, I was on the porch when a lady came to the gate to greet me. We were chatting and she asked me for the location of the DFP office because she was looking for work.
DFP? I ran through a list of acronyms in my head; CHW, DMO, FZS, CBD, SEECF, EU, CREATE, TAWIRI, TANAPA… PB&J… No DFP. I asked her again, what is DFP? She seemed to be indicating that I work for DFP and that she wanted a job from me. Not entirely surprising given that we just hired enumerators, but what on earth was DFP? I looked around; at my t-shirt, at the porch. And then I saw the license plate of our EU-funded vehicle: DFP 1289. Donor Funded Project. Vehicles in Tanzania that have outside funding get a sort of tax-exempt status, which is indicated on their plates, to keep track of the many foreign-funded cars and trucks.
I had to laugh. Ohhhh. I explained that DFP wasn’t my employer or any organization; it just means that the vehicle, and thus the passengers in it, are funded by foreign donations. But, in reality, she knew exactly what DFP meant. DFP translates to jobs.
Anyway, I explained that we weren’t hiring now, but the project will continue for a couple of years and there is always a possibility of something in the future. And then I headed back into my donor-funded house.
A lot has happened over here in Meatu in the last few weeks, including a major shortage of power and internet, so I've got a lot to say.
First of all, a friend forwarded me a great pair of posts on the pros and cons of computer assisted personal interviewing (CAPI). Sorry about all the acronyms, but apparently just PDAs (personal digital assistant- the actual hardware) isn't descriptive enough, plus all the cool kids are saying CAPI. So far, I agree with everything they write, all except for the fact that I haven't yet reaped the benefits of real-time data since I don't have real data just yet. I can see the light though.
However, I will second the high start-up and programming costs. I completely underestimated the amount of time it would take to program my survey into a digital format. I bought the software about a week before I left for Tanzania (five weeks ago) and I've been programming ever since. Granted, my time has also been filled with village leader meetings, focus groups, NGO meetings, translations, enumerator meetings and training. In an ideal world, I would have bought the software and started programming a full semester before traveling to the field, but I was rather occupied taking and teaching classes. Anyway, more to come late on the time frame of fieldwork (I've learned a lot).
In sum, I'd say the enumeration training last week was decent. A solid marginal pass (which, having just finished my prelims with the flying colors of MP, is totally acceptable). I have a few friends who have conducted enumeration training in other countries and have had substantial preparation or documentation for the week. I would say, as any CC4Ger would, that mine was more of a birth-by-fire. I asked a few of these friends for advice, wrote a some notes the morning of the training, and then I just got up and started talking... in a meager Swahenglish.
We started the training with seven people and had an evaluation mid-week to select the top four, although it was pretty obvious from the first day who they were. Although much of the training centered on learning to use the PDAs, because my surveys were barely functionally programmed at this point, we spent more time reading the paper surveys and ensuring we understood the question the exact same way. And then role-playing with the PDAs. Since the surveys have a male and female component, role playing was a bit like playing house with my field assistant (perhaps not surprisingly). Anyway, this week we started piloting (testing our ability to conduct the surveys in a non-sample village). Technically, the last day of piloting is tomorrow, which is frightening considering how much text and scripting I've changed today, but I'm sure it will all pan out.
My enumerators are made of two teams, a man and woman each. It's a small group, but they are excellent. It also may seem that data collection will take a long time with only two survey teams, but I'm confident that these teams are good decision. First of all, we only have one vehicle, so we are limited by (not seatbelts, duh) how many we squeeze in the back seat. Secondly, the male and female interview happen at the same time, with the male interviewing the husband and the female interviewing the wife. This means that the interview process itself only takes about an hour, leaving more time to travel to (and find) the next household. Additionally, privacy is crucial to my surveys. I have an entire section on family planning and an experiment at the end of the survey that includes the wife making a decision without the presence of her husband. Having the husband occupied by my male enumerator counting his chickens (literally) empowers this decision.
Anyway, I still have a bit more editing to do tonight. More to come later on the hilarious life of being a mzungu in Meatu.
Hat tip: US