Tuesday, 18 March 2014

RQ Series: Snowballing your target group? You need GUTS

I am in the third month of fieldwork, and I can confidently say there are more questions than I have blogged. Spending more time in the field, or planning fieldwork, has left me with little writing capacity.
But of interest tonight, is my data collection method: snowballing.
I realized very few researchers tell us the reality of using snowballing as a method of  strategically and purposively sampling your target audience. Having used this method for the last three months, I will give you a piece of my mind: you need guts to snowball humans!
First, you have to always be in your best moods, otherwise you might get very negative responses for your gloomy or disinterested tone on the phone. Picture this, I call twelve potential persons on a day I am least willing to talk to anyone in the office. I only get to book one appointment. The following day, I call six, they all respond positively, give me dates and introduce me to other people in their network. I then learnt its's all about how I compose myself over the phone, how clear my aim of calling, and my aim of research is, and as well, how convincing I sound on the other end of the line!
Second, if you are calling someone, you also need to know at least two or three things about them. Most of the times, before every call, I find myself knowing just the basics: their name and that they are young farmers. I have to get around asking them where they farm, and if they are within my age bracket. I also need to ask them if they are 'educated' (a very annoying question that limits my research at times), and finally if they are willing to take part in the research. While most of them will not say no, some will keep on postponing giving you an appointment. Did I also mention that it is important that you keep the line alive? Yes, that means always making sure your phone is topped up with enough airtime, or you migrate to a postpaid plan. That way, when a respondent puts you on hold, or decides to engage you on phone, you don't worry about running out of minutes!
Third, there is a challenge when your guts are taken for granted. As a young female researcher, and meeting more young men, than women, in the field of research, I am susceptible to a lot of unwarranted 'favours' and questions. For instance, offers to deliver valentine flowers to my interviewees, offers of the best fruit on the farm when I visit, or even offers to accompany me to the next field trip. It recently became more awkward when after an interview, the young men, I suppose ten years younger than I, took the time to ask me questions they were dying to have me answer: How old are you? Why GB? What's your status? Why is it so? At that point, I wished something else. How am I to answer these young men all these questions and still remain ' objective in the field'. They were of course not meant to enrich my research subject, they were meant to meet their social inquiry into my life.
Finally, I am looking for guts to ensure that, once in the field, my respondents know that what I am doing is not just ticking that research box, that yes I collected data. I want them to know that the stories they share with me matter now and in the future. I am careful not to promise anything, but I am constantly thinking of what next I should do with these success stories that I encounter everyday. Those guys are soon evolving!

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