Thursday, January 19, 2012

Back from Kalehe 2

From the Earth Institute at Columbia I received a grant to do “village mapping”. In brief, one of the things I’m interested in is how migrants settle in a village. Do they now live throughout the village? Do they cluster together? And if so how? We know very little about this but theoretical work suggest clustering is important for things such as cooperation. We therefore go around the village and take the gps-location of all the households. And while doing this we also do a short survey to learn about a household’s migration history and things like their ethnicity, age, etc. We also collect gps-coordinates and information of public goods (projects).

The plan was to do this with a “normal” short survey. And not to waste paper I programmed the survey in four PDAs. Well; that did not work. The reason is that most Congolese prefer to tell a story instead of briefly answering a question. For example, to the question "In how many villages did you live?" a respondent would not answer “4”. No. The person would reply “Well. I was born in Nyamotwe. Then in 1997 I left to Goma for work. Then I lived there for 3 years, but in 2003 due to fighting I was forced to leave to Bunyakiri, etc. etc." You see my point. The respondent tells a long and we would only write down "4". BUT it's exactly this story - with all its rich information - that we're interested in! So: the Migration Game to the rescue.

This is me explaining the Migration Game. In brief, migration is a difficult topic to study. It is difficult to define because people move for different reasons (motivation-dimension), at different times (time-dimension) and to different places (location-dimension). Cutting each of these dimensions at a different place gives very different definitions. So to do it properly (in my opinion) one needs the whole story - the whole migration history. But to do a "normal" survey to obtain that information is time-consuming and flat-out boring. Not so with the Migration Game!

The Game is nothing more than a large game-board with codes and several pawns, on which you place a blank A4-paper that is to be filled out. This Game Board was designed together with my little brother when I was in the Netherlands last time - he is great in designing and now the board has an Okapi and all on it (the pdf is over 4mb big so I can’t upload it. I will do this when back). The point is that the surveyor draws the whole migration history of the respondent while the respondent is telling his/her story. A circle is a village. Inside those circles we have the name of the village and the Chefferie. Then between villages we have arrows indicating displacement. And next to these arrows we write why the person moved, with how many people and in what year. Then at the end when we have the whole migration history drawn we ask in which villages the person has fields and we place the pawns on the game-board as well. After also getting ethnicity information and the gps-location of the household, we’re done. We noticed that this doesn’t only give us much richer information; it's also much faster and more fun.

Another reason for me to be in the Congo (beyond the village mapping) is to sit down with people (especially migrants) and talk to them to learn about their experiences. Why did they move? Why did they choose this village? How were they received? What are the things necessary to integrate? Over the last years – especially with the large Tuungane evaluation – we have collected piles of data. I feel very comfortable with that – doing statistical regressions to obtain correlations between variables. However, this often leaves the mechanisms as a black box. Why are X and Y related to each other? Thus before leaving I met several anthropologists for tips and the weeks to come I’ll be sitting down with migrants. This work is not easy though and I have a lot of respect for people who do this kind of qualitative work. One problem particularly for us is that we’re staying only a maximum of a week in one village so it is difficult to build up a trust-relationship with a few respondents.

Let me give another example. On the picture above you see 4/5 of our team (fltr: Neelan, me, Eustache and Desire). The other people are friends of the chief. In a Congolese village it is difficult to just walk up to a household and expect the person to give information. He/she will want to know whether the chief is ok with it. In order to help us the chief sends a few of his aides with us. This helps a lot and people are willing to give a lot of information. The problem of course is that the people are very unlikely to give information about sensitive things that involve these aides or the chief. For example, one question that I’m interested in is whether NGO projects are captured. That is, "Who benefits the most from NGO projects?" And, "Who are the ones who generally implement the NGO projects?" Well these are very likely exactly the people that are present with us during the interview (the aides of the chief). And if this is the case, the respondent is very likely to give the party line “the whole village helps and implements” instead of telling the truth.

So our enumerator team (Desire on the first picture, and Jean-Jacques on the next one) is being trained to get around these things. One thing they could do is to send the aide away for an errand when they feel the respondent has a story to tell. Another thing they now do is to note down on the survey that they have the feeling that the respondent has more to tell, and then we come back later without the aide. Eustache, Desire and Jean-Jacques are not just enumerators blindly asking the questions of the survey but we really want them to be researchers. They know what we are interested in and they are now just as investigative as we are - if not more.

Btw, there is lots and lots of coffee around, but nowhere to get a proper cup of coffee (it’s wise to take Nescafe along when going to the DRC. Of course I forgot to include that in my bag as well). The reason is that while during Belgian times the DRC used to process raw coffee beans, they don’t do that any longer and most is exported raw to Rwanda.

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