All that doubt, but excitement- Larry Stillman

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We worked through several iterations of potential in depth questions in Dhaka, after meeting Apallo, a Bangladeshi anthropologiest/ethnographer and spending an hour or more the discussion of of long and short interviews, insider, outsider participation, the role of the professional in acting as the questioner, even in conjunction with a local community intermediary * . There’s inevitably, a huge amount of filtering. You travel 300+ km away, fly into a tiny airport, then go for hours along a bouncy, potholed road/track,into the heat, the real world of turning up semi-exhausted, how demanding can you be of people?

Interactions are 99% in Bangla.Tapas adapts our questions, but the questions mostly appear to provoke good responses though they need modification and reordering. This is meant to have two purposes. First, for the ongoing development of the project in design of community information systems and community engagement and for the “production” in an acceptable academic industrial form; reliant, in the end. For the academic purposes, it is all fraught because there are so many dependent links for quality work to occur: in the village, with the local NGO, with coordination in Oxfam in Bangladesh, and then, getting the data in a manageable form back to Melbourne (with local visits to see how it is going). Did we get the questions right? Have we enough data? Are we understanding the context? In the heat, it is hard to think, through all this, in fact, I nearly fainted before a group session. It’s all most impossible to convey the hot and steamy interview environment in words; with one woman, the whole family and friends crowd around, inevitable kids (little boys chipping in about Bluetooth, in Bangla), no privacy here (everything appears to be communal. Throw out the rules about interview privacy) . One house courtyard is very clean and tidy, I can see the raised beds and big trunks in their single rooms, ducks walk across. In another, it is much poorer: a feeding bowl is filled with mosquito larvae, the smell of garbage, and the woman’s clothes are ragged. She is also very, very shy, but has a beautiful if worn face. And it gets hotter and hotter. I see a women typing into her smart phone: she is having a go at writing a message for Facebook about her interaction with Oxfam and I. They all appear to love posting photos on Facebook. Does it matter that her message is in ungrammatical English, a language she only knows poorly? The fact is that she feels confident enough to try to post a message in English about her engagement in social research. Remember, this is an isolated, relatively poor, traditional rural farming woman. I feel a frisson of excitement at seeing this happen. I think you can see this in a video

Explaining FB in Kharibari village

Showing us Facebook. I'd love some indication of what she is saying: )

Posted by Protic on Sunday, June 5, 2016

The next day, NGO staff at Polisree are doing a debrief, after I gave a brief intro on the purposes and timing of the research: deeper ‘technological biographies’ and the shorter survey. There is a long and involved discussion going on with the Polisree staff on how to implement our requirements. Tapas is drawing all over a whiteboard to describe the processes we are using, to try and engage the community as much as possible and hear their voice.It is also clear that this is very new way of doing things, as it is for Oxfam. Participatory Action Research is much more open than conventional monitoring and evaluation. But can I be sure that we are on the right path? Have I the strength, desire, to engage in endless questioning about what we are doing, and indeed confident in my role in trying, across the language and cultural divides, to work with a community on complex problems? Trust is important and probably, personal presence and check-ups of the “academic”, discomforting as this is. * For those interested in academic technicalities, we are working with a version of Uwe Flick’s episodic interviewing to capture technological understandings and use, and will be working with gathered data to look at Geel’s model of social-technical pathways [ Flick, U, The episodic interview, that can be found in various versions on line and Geels, F. W., Schot, J. (2007). Typology of sociotechnical transition pathways. Research Policy, 36(3), 399417– all thanks to colleague Mauro Sarrica, part of the team). Larry Stillman

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