Why do we need to be on the ground? Part 6 – Gathering more meaningful information

By | 1st October 2017

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Being an ethnographer

When we are in the field for a while, we have a different perspective than when just “come and go” for a short period of time.

We also have more discussions, and, after some time, the outcome of those discussions are often different to the ones we get the first time.

What I have always noticed is that people first say what they think you want to hear. They might also not show their usual behaviour, just because there is someone external.

But with time, you build relationships, you create and foster trust. And then you start to become “part of the furnitures”. People start to forget that you are there (as an external member). And so, while you will never truly be part of the community, people feel more comfortable and start acting again in their natural way. Listening to “normal” conversations (those that people have when you are not here), you can gather different information to the one that was originally provided. Watching people going about their daily life, and living it yourself as well, you can truly see the how and what. You can see and experience the struggles and the positives. Now, there is no need to put on a show.

In a way, it is similar to being an ethnographer… (not that this is what we are doing). We are looking at what people do, and how they do it, we are listening to what they say, we are experimenting what their life looks like. We are observers and participant, to gain a deeper understanding of the local culture and behaviours.

And, like ethnography studies, this does take time (and therefore has a high cost) and does introduce some level of bias. Time and cost is increased by long and/or regular time spent in the field. Biases are introduced based on our own experience (past and in the field), how we interact and how we analyse what we see or hear.

But this is all worth it! It allows to find out what is truly needed and how to bring it – teaching, motivating, demonstrating – to make a more sustainable difference.

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