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Intensive training for accurate data collection: No, we are not from “Tata-Cornell hospital!”

TCi FIELD NOTES are a series of blog posts dedicated for current TCi Scholars, Fellows, and TCi staff to share experiences, insight, and stories stemming from TCi-funded fieldwork throughout India. Soumya Gupta is current TCi Scholar pursuing a Ph.D in Applied Economics at Cornell. In this post, Soumya, who is carrying out a household survey to collect data for her dissertation, gives a project update from the Chandrapur district (Vidarbha) in India. Check out her first and second posts.

This month we organized a 10-day training session for our team of 20 enumerators and 2 supervisors. It was held at MGIMS’ Rural Health Training Center (RHTC) at Bhidi village which is 35 kms from Sewagram (Wardha). The main focus of the training was to acquaint the team with the survey questionnaire and activities. We began with in-class discussions and mock interviews based on the paper questionnaire. Once the team seemed to have understood the questions, response options and skip codes we moved on to training them in the use and handling of the Samsung tablets that were procured for the survey. After that practice interviews were held in the nearby Bhidi village.

The team was also trained in taking anthropometric measurements for men, women and children. Portable stadiometers, infantometers and digital weighing scales were sourced from TISS and Dr. Subodh Gupta from MGIMS conducted a day long training with the team regarding the handling of equipment, placement of respondents and recording of readings. In a parallel session our phlebotomist was given a week’s training at MGIMS and the Metropolis laboratory in Chandrapur/Nagpur.

It is one thing to discuss project details with your committee members/ project coordinator or other people who have been part of the process right from the beginning. It is a whole different ball game to talk about it to a group of people who have no idea about it and who are probably not that invested in it either. I was constantly wondering if I’m making any sense to my team and if they have really understood things the way I expect them to.

The main focus was on understanding and interpreting the questions properly. The empowerment module developed by IFPRI took a longer than the other sections. Within that the section on relative autonomy in productive decisions was, for me, the toughest to explain. It was fairly subjective and therefore we had to go through several rounds of relevant examples and discussions before everyone was on the same page. For instance how would you distinguish between ‘get into trouble’ vs. ‘disappoint someone’ in relation to ‘decision about purchase of agricultural inputs’? The good thing was that because our team didn’t understand it all in one go we ourselves ended up understanding just how nuanced some of the questions and response options are. Everyone agreed that this is not like the other surveys they have been a part of – the questions are more involved and don’t have the standard yes/no or numerical response (10 acres/ 15 quintals/ Rs. 20,000 and so on).

Another component of our training was on field research ethics. For this we used a field guide developed by the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. A Hindi translation was provided to every participant. A part of that was an emphasis on the meaning of voluntary consent and why it is important. We distributed copies of our consent form to our team and every day there would be reading sessions. I realized that while the form itself seemed very obvious and clear to me, the team who were learning about the project only then perceived it very differently. Even the names of the collaborating institutes (TCi, MGIMS, TISS) were hard to say all in one go. Very often the three would be mixed up to form ‘Tata-Cornell hospital’!

We were working with our software developer during the training period as well. He sent us the software without testing it (although he claims till date that his team tested it well and good). So Kasim and the supervisors extensively tested the software prior to the training. Even then our team identified several bugs during the training. We would send him texts/emails in real time and he would respond. I have to admit though that after a point the real time back-n-forth became ridiculous and then downright frustrating. Imagine working with a certain version of the software all day, identifying bugs in it till evening, the guy sending us the revised version before dinner, testing it post dinner, transferring it onto all the tabs by midnight, testing it with the team the next day and then….repeat the whole process. It was so so infuriating how, even after repeated reminders and inputs, he refused to find solutions to the issues at hand. From being understanding and encouraging I feel I eventually became very demanding and very bossy with the developer! Little did I realize that that was just the beginning and that I would have many more moments where the phrase ‘dear God please give me the strength to deal with such-n-such person’ would come to mind!

One evening we divided the team into groups of 5 each and asked them to depict their experience during the training. They talked about how they came from different parts of Vidarbha (we have members from Amravati, Chandrapur, Yavatmal, Buldhana and Wardha districts), got to know one another, learnt how to use a tab, felt we didn’t incorporate enough ‘entertainment’ activities in the training schedule (haha!) and even wrote a poem about their time at Bhidi (which is currently being translated from Marathi to English). Overall they seem to be a pretty decent bunch. Here’s hoping they stay that way.

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