It is finished

In Blog, Reflections, Updates on February 25, 2010 by Jim Tagged: , , , , , , , ,

Well, not so much.

I’m referring to my data gathering. I was away for about two months talking to participants of my research study in Cambodia and Laos. It was really nice to return in the field and do what I used to do–talk to farmers and probe how they communicate to people.

This is the hardest work I’ve done so far as I virtually became a one-man research team. I was the finance officer, note taker, research manager, interviewer, typist and since I have a translator, I was the assistant moderator. Despite some hiccups, I guess my data might be enough for me to earn me a degree.

A trader in Laos. They will eventually stop near the border and walk the animals to cross the border. Officials from the opposite border don't care much about permits as they have a big demand for cattle.

Initial Insights

There were a number of things that I’ve learned while I was in the field. I will only name a few and will not discuss them in detail here. Corruption is one of the roots of the continuing failure of policies in Southeast Asia–regardless if it is in politics, economy or animal health–it is bound to fail. Farmers were almost encouraged to trade illegally as they could not afford what some industry stakeholders are asking from them.

I was thought that development communication is participatory. However, at this stage, my belief that a purely participatory development communication can be achieved is being challenged. In a highly technical field such as animal health, giving stakeholders the freedom to participate in the decision-making might not be the way to go. This is just my first thought, I might be wrong, I might be right, I still have to think more about this. It is just one of the many reflections that I made in the field. Farmers, traders and other stakeholders, while possessing indigenous knowledge about animal health, will have to trust the technical knowledge of veterinarians how to address transboundary animal diseases.

Lessons learned

In a communication research, communication is of vital importance, no pun intended. Your translator could well mean your success or your failure. While I’ve learned this already in the first phase of my research, funding constraints however forced me to stick to my old practice of depending on my local partners to provide the translators instead of relying on a professional translator. This was a way of promoting ownership among the local partners, however, it also gave some unnecessary burden in the research that I have to blindly trust my local partners/colleagues on their judgment of who is a “skilled” English speaker among their staff.

Sometimes, excellent English skill is not that important as long as my translator, who also acted as the moderator during my research, is a seasoned moderator or someone who has extensive experience in talking to farmers or conducting focus group discussions. However, at some point both didn’t happen—satisfactory English skills and experience in FGDs/interviewing farmers. If that was the case, the FGD is not considered in the study.

Practical side

How about my family? Well, the family coped without me when I was in Cambodia last December as my father-in-law, who was visiting us from the Philippines, spent his last month in Australia. It was unfortunate that he was not given a waiver of the “no further stay” clause in his visa because he has no “compelling” reason to stay.

I was able to return to Australia by end of December just in time to spend New Year with the family. By second week of January, my father-in-law and I had to leave for Southeast Asia—I was off to Laos while he returns to Manila. Fortunately, my wife had enough leave credits that we were able to cope with the ‘partial loss’ of income. They survived almost a month without me, getting to summer activities and first week of school by public transport.


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