Every project has issues that are unique to its objectives and context. Plan an investigation that accommodates for –– or, better yet, takes advantage of –– these factors. It will yield better, more honest insights, which are the foundations of a good program.
But beyond research tools, planning covers the practical aspects of your fieldwork, such as travel and risk management.
Planning also covers the composition of your research team. Choosing and preparing a team for fieldwork is a critical process. Most teams will consist of a core set of members drawing from an organization’s, staff, partners, or clients, in addition to a local team that is native to the program context.
Local researchers are vital for linguistic translation, relationship facilitation, cultural interpretation, and program design. A project simply won’t happen without them, and in many scenarios, the research team will be following their lead. You need to have people you can trust, and who trust you.
For our research in FATA, we were hiring to fill important and specific skills and attributes in our local team. We were lucky to find researchers who had both the hard and soft skills and the personal investment that make great researchers.
One of our best was a design researcher named Qaiser who ticked all the boxes: he had a background in English Literature and Political Science, so we were glad to have his language skills and geopolitical understanding. He was from FATA, but had worked with several NGOs and traveled outside of Pakistan; he both knew the local customs and had an analytical eye born from his exposure to other cultures and viewpoints.
But what really sold us about Qaiser was his obvious passion for research. In his first interview, he spoke energetically about his experience researching difficult topics, including homosexuality in Pakistan, and was clearly comfortable treating fragile topics with skill and sensitivity.
Importantly, Qaiser was personally invested in the research, and wanted to see positive change in his community. Like many of our best researchers, Qaiser felt deeply a sense of injustice about how communities are misrepresented (or excluded) in mainstream narratives. His drive for the hard work and getting it right was personal, and that showed up in his outputs and analysis.
An operational framework for anticipating and mitigating project risks.
Detailed profiles of the desired local team for use in recruiting. These are drawn from the specific needs of the research project.
An overview of the research focus and methodologies that was presented to the hosting country office. Providing an engaging entry point to the larger project is valuable collaboration tool for a country team that has done the hard work to prepare for the research team’s arrival.
A survey given to the local research team before they began, used to gauge their relative starting points, in terms of understanding the research focus and operating context.
Diverse training materials that were used to build the knowledge of the local team on the methods, practices, and tools of design research.
A brief survey provided to the local team at the end of training to collect their feedback on how the process could be improved for future teams.
A light-hearted video was produced to capture the training process. This was also used to provide the entire research team with a visual memory of the experience they shared together.