After years of studies and hours reading papers with lots of interest, I was finally going out on the field to see with my own eyes how research is conducted in practice. Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire was my destination in the context of a follow-up study testing the communication platform EDUQ+ designed to increase parental awareness to engage parents in their child’s education. In the months prior to my departure, I had an intense communication with the team in Abidjan that organizes research on the field. Leaving Switzerland, I was extremely excited about this upcoming experience, but I was also filled with questions: Will I be up to the tasks that had been given to me? Do I have enough experience? What if I fail? Will the questionnaire that I have been preparing for weeks make sense to the respondents? Luckily, I did not have time to overthink these questions as things really got going the morning following my late arrival. I finally met the local team we collaborate with for this study. Along their side, I immediately found my bearings. The first week was dedicated to the training of the 26 interviewers, which basically translates into preparing field itineraries, notify respondents about our arrival and improve the questionnaire based on interviewers’ feedback. This was my first glimpse of the “behind the scenes” of the many papers that I had enjoyed without really knowing the amount of work that has led to the few pages of results. As this first week went by, I got more and more confident about the work that had been done upstream. The very productive and much needed face-to-face communication with the interviewers allowed me to adapt the questions to the realities of the field. Interviewers notified me with interesting questions and constructive criticisms. The meaning of some words is indeed very context dependent. In addition, making the questions understandable to illiterate and innumerate respondents, without losing the spirit of the study, is a key but challenging task. After an intense first week, an even more intense second week began. Realities of accessing remote data collection areas coupled with daily interview quotas to respect, without even considering frequent heavy rains, provide fertile ground for whoever likes optimization problems under constraint. Thanks to a very skilled and experienced local team, all elements of the puzzle were assembled for the first day of data collection. Beginning of data collection, corresponding to the moment of truth, had arrived. It was time for me to move to the field and visit sites where the study happens. I was humbled to finally meet some of the human beings hiding behind a series of identifying numbers in a database. Chatting with teachers and school directors went a long way in telling how people on the frontline experienced this program that we are testing. I was happy to visit classes and meet the children who are the principal targets of the study. Although my time among them was short, it comforted me on the idea that such studies are the way to follow to bridge theory with practical application. It also strongly impacted the way I approach the reading of a paper, knowing the amount of work that lies behind it, from the conception phase of research ideas to the implementation in the field. In a nutshell, I really enjoyed the team spirit that I felt to be part of. It highlighted the importance of sharing knowledge and the positive externalities of working in a productive environment. During my way back, I took the time to reflect on the previous 3 weeks that had gathered so many emotions and I got myself looking forward to the next experiences I will have on the field.
By Julien Christen Date: December 2019