do’s-and-don’ts for fieldwork

I am still in Montreal and waiting for the research permit result from the Ministry of Education of Rwanda.

My local research partner organisation, the Institute of Policy Analysis and Research – Rwanda (IPAR-Rwanda), recently submitted our research fieldwork application to the ministry (and it may take up to three months) so now I need to exercise the virtue of patience. I should probably start practising Kinyarwanda (the local language) while waiting, but it’s not the same doing it on my own versus being there in person and studying it in full immersion. Maybe I can find a Rwandan community in Montreal?

Planning (pre-departure)
Do – We all need to do it. In fact, it is mandatory for any research work that goes through the ethical review process. A good part of the research design is about carefully walking through the most and least likely events and possibilities that may happen while in the field. However, regardless of how well you plan, outcomes are not guaranteed and fool-proof. You may be in good luck, and things fall in with the plan, or  things can fall apart in the least expected ways. (a crucial local research partner who was heading the district veterinary services went to Egypt for graduate studies, just two weeks before I started my fieldwork in 2011. I only found out a week before my arrival, c’est la vie eh?)
Don’t – The research outline serves best as a fieldwork map, but a roughly sketched one like on the back of a napkin kind. The essential landmarks should feature there (e.g. research questions and hypothesis) but don’t fret with the details for now. Having a foundation is necessary (you can make a standardised survey or interview questions), but it shouldn’t be the blueprint just yet. Terms and definitions in English or French will have to be translated into local language and approved by local people. For example, when I ask local farmers “how fertile is your land”, what are the various ways in which we perceive and understand by “(in)fertile soil”? It can be judged by colour, texture, smell, feeling (intuition), past yield history, hope, etc. Of course, it can be more (scientifically) precise, using pH and other chemical and mechanical analyses using soil sampling, but even with just subjective estimation, many characteristics vary and are subject to (individual) sensitivity.

Published by Sung Kyu Kim

Sung Kyu is a research fellow at the Science Policy Research Unit, University of Sussex

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