from a letter home from ghana, in which i tried to explain the basics of how the research on which i was working actually…worked. plus, the response from one of my very favorite people on the planet. roughly, in the research project, we tried to convince people obtaining a malaria medication to subscribe into a text messaging system that would send texts reminding them to complete their full doses of malaria medication. as a qualification, i have had several conversations with folks about the below since being back – and at least one experience asking directions in nyc – that have convinced me that people don’t do that much better with giving directions here in the US.
one thing we learned is that people are not spectacular at providing directions to their house or even providing details about their house. For example, we spent quite some time looking for a house with a blue door that, in fact, did not have what could even be generously called a blue-ish door. In addition, when we did locate the house (and it took awhile), it was right next to a well-known ‘spot’ (bar), though the only landmark provided by the respondent had been an unnamed provisions shop, of which there were many. This resulted in quite a lot of revision to the questions about how to find our respondents later (more or less ‘do you live near ANYTHING well known, including a church, a water pump, a public toilet, really, anything at all that someone other than you would know about?’)
to be fair, we can quickly review that we were putting our respondents in a somewhat difficult position and that it is kind of miraculous that we got so many eligible and willing participants. let’s quickly recast our research at your neighborhood drug store.
you are either sick or know someone who is sick (or like to be really, really prepared) because you are out buying cold/flu medicine. it’s entirely possible that you have a sick child with you and also a reasonable chance that you or the child (or both) are feverish. you check out and thank the cashier (you’re so nice!) and are getting ready to leave. either the cashier suggests that you might talk to the well-dressed person in the corner with a note-book or the cashier is forgetful and the well-dressed person has to approach you. either way, the well-dressed person asks if you can answer a few questions. maybe you are obliging; maybe you are more like me trying to actively dodge sidewalk canvassers (why is there not a ‘dodge Save the Children’ app yet?). if the person gets you to stop, suddenly s/he suddenly wants to know about a lot more than just the medicine you just bought but also all about the kind of water or toilet facilities your household has or the education level of different household members. i would say (soapbox alert!) the questions ‘would you answer that?’ or ‘could you answer that?’ – asked by the researchers of themselves and their peers – are among the most underutilized questions in questionnaire design.
anyway, the person also hands you a flyer with a phone number that you can call or text for further health information to be texted to your phone. so far, maybe this is a mild annoyance or, at best, a novel break in routine.
but then, the person wants to see you again. maybe. but can’t give you any specific dates or times or information about this potential next visit. the well-dressed person actually fully intends to see you again – at your house, approximately 72 hours later, to inspect your medicine – but can’t tell you that, lest the impending visit change your (or the intended recipient’s) propensity to take the medicine as directed. so, the person is elusive and asks more generally about when you can be found at home on, say, fridays. and asks for your phone number. and detailed directions to your house. and then asks for someone-else-who-knows-how-to-find-you’s phone number and direction to that person’s house as well. (yes, the people give consent to give us their contact information — but still.)
even asking about ‘where you generally are on fridays’ was a big concession in the original research design, as we were aiming for total surprise (see: Spanish Inquisition) as to the timing and purpose of our visit. but, we slowly had to erode the surprise after a lot of turning up at empty houses for follow-up interviews.
just got around to reading this. it makes me want to write my own questionnaires.