Project Updates

9 07 2010

I’ve had some interesting advancements in my project over the last two weeks. The last time I wrote about my project, I explained the difficulty I was having at getting my foot in the door, and getting the answers I wanted once I was there. Well, like most things in life, things got worse before they got better. I finally had the opportunity to “successfully” sit down and run a full interview with someone…only to discover that my actual method was somewhat unsuccessful. The process was a struggle, and it was clear that my line of thinking was not in the same place as my interviewees. He wasn’t understanding my questions, and I wasn’t understanding his answers. The method I was using, based in some decent background research on expert elicitations, survey methods, and of course malaria, had been approved by higher-than-me academic researchers in the US and smoothly tested out with an academically-mindset US coworker. But here in the public sector of Tanzania, my method just wasn’t translating.

After going through several rounds of “this just won’t work. I can’t do it, I give up” (big thanks to Derek for convincing me that wasn’t the answer), I took a different approach and starting thinking about why it wasn’t working, what aspect wasn’t working. After a long discussion with a friend here who has worked on similar decision-analysis projects in the public health sector and a phone call back to my Professor in the US, I was convinced of two things:
1. Regardless of how each interview goes, there is a lot of information being tossed around. When I am done I will find some way to make sense of it all, but I need to stop trying to make sense of it now, before I have the whole picture. In the end, it might not be the sense I intended to make, but it’s not going to be a waste of time.
2. It’s still possible to get the answers I want, I just need to ask my questions in a way that will provoke them. It’s my objective that is rigid, not how I get there.

So, I started revising. I listened to the recordings and read my notes from my 3 interviews/meetings/interactions (whatever you might call them), several times. I thought creatively about the meaning behind each comment, each question, each response, each struggle to understand each other. I sent a few emails back-and-forth with friend of my professor’s, who is an expert on expert elicitations. Two long days later, I had a new protocol ready—which was sort of by necessity, as I had an interview scheduled for 8:20am. As it turns out, what I came up with is not all that different from where I started, it maintained almost all of the hard efforts I had put in prior to arriving in Tanzania. But, if I may brag a bit, the changes I made resulted in what is actually a better example of an “expert elicitation” than my old version, and potentially will provide a larger range of valuable data.

My interview that next morning (Thursday) went surprisingly well–along with the one on Friday, Monday, and Tuesday (today). I’ve had fun doing them, and I would even say that my interviewees enjoyed talking to me as well. At points throughout each interview, the person will give me an answer that is not in the format I wanted, or doesn’t fully address my question in the way that I anticipated. But, rather than struggling against it as before, my new protocol allows me to adapt to the answer and feed off it to try to get back where I want. And at the very least, if it seems like I will not get the style of answer I am looking for, the interviewee doesn’t feel like they are doing something “wrong” or answering incorrectly. They simply keep going pleasantly, giving me tons upon tons of information in a way they are comfortable with. Somewhere between the lines of their response usually comes the information I was looking for. Point number 2 accomplished! Some interviewees have given me the same information, while others have blatantly contradicted each other- a sign that I will be able to pull some analysis and “greater picture” out in the end. But for now, point number 1: just do the interviews, and analyze later one when I have the whole set of data in front of me!

– Kristen Pfau




2 responses

10 07 2010
Kevin Pfau

Plan your, work your plan – but don’t be afraid to improv ise!!

13 07 2010

ahh the joys of interviewing! i didnt get my surveys started for 2.5 weeks due to revisions. glad things are going smoothly now!

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