Preliminary Instrument Testing

An FGD participant smiles in response to the discussion on diet. I have written this blog to be posted on the TCi blog, so expect that it will show up there in some form within the week. Here is the original (and somewhat lengthy) post:

Since arriving, the TCi Intern Team has taken great strides in the development of the Dietary Diversity module of the Minimum Nutrition Dataset for Agriculture, or MDNA. The majority of the work in the beginning was spent going over and discussing the survey instruments that we will be using to collect diet recall information from the women that we will survey in the field. This week though, we got to put these instruments to the test in some preliminary rounds of interviews, as well as conduct a focus group meeting. These tests helped us to identify both the positive and effective aspects of the surveys, as well as some areas that needed tweaking in order to be most useful for both our purposes, and for broad applicability in other places and contexts. This universal applicability concept has been one of the most challenging to integrate into our work. As a Masters student in International Development at Cornell, I often study projects that are highly contextual and oriented to specific regions and cultures. While this can be extremely beneficial, the goal of the MDNA is to be adaptable, flexible, and broad enough that it can be applied to many different contexts, allowing for the largest benefit in the effort to link agriculture and nutrition. We are hoping that by using this pilot, we will be able to achieve a set of instruments that are effective in collecting essential dietary diversity information not only in Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra, but also in other areas of India, Sub-Saharan Africa, and other agriculturally developing regions of the world.

This week, we have come even closer to achieving that aim. On Wednesday, we traveled to a village about an hour away from the ICRISAT campus. We had the opportunity to meet the two ICRISAT field workers that will be helping us during our village surveys next week, and work with them in this preliminary investigation to test the surveys. Each of us interviewed two women as to all of the foods they and their families had eaten in the past three days. This seems daunting—trying to recall out of the blue what you had for lunch two days ago— but the women were able to provide us the information we sought, and were excited to participate in the survey. In fact, the whole village was interested in our presence; several times the doorways to the houses we were in would become crowded with onlookers intrigued as to what we were up to. We returned back to the ICRISAT campus feeling rather sticky and tired, but satisfied with how the day had gone. We were able to discuss our individual experiences working with the survey device, communication matters with our enumerators, and dealing with other small issues that arose throughout the day and then translate them into useful revisions in the survey. These changes ranged from modifying page layouts to rephrasing questions to clarifying the purpose of specific sections. We are now feeling much more confident in using this survey device in the field when we conduct the piloting of the MNDA dietary diversity study.

The second big event of the week was a preliminary run of a focus group discussion (often referred to as an FGD, as everyone at ICRISAT and in the international development community loves giving things acronyms). This was conducted in a different village, also about an hour away. We had a really great turnout, with approximately seven women and ten men (plus two adorable toddlers) at the start, with some other villagers trickling in later. We had the help of two ICRISAT staff who have been incredibly helpful to use throughout our time here. The goal of the FGD was to see if the conversation starters we had identified would guide the discussion towards the information we wished to find out; what food do people normally eat, where do they get it from, and how much variation should we expect to see from seasonality and amongst those of different caste and class. Again, given this experience, we were able to make a few changes in the way we plan to conduct and record the FGD.

The biggest obstacle we see here is the language barrier. During this preliminary run, the moderator was a native speaker of Telugu, and could easily communicate with the FGD participants. He was sensitive to cultural issues, aware of the participants’ modes of thinking, and could easily probe participants who were remaining quiet, such as the younger women who were hesitant to contribute to the conversation. Unfortunately, we ourselves possess none of these skills. Rather, we will have to work through translators. We already know that our translators, the ICRISAT field staff who live and work in the villages we will be surveying, will be utterly invaluable in conducting these surveys. We will have to work hard to establish a rapport with them, and identify the communication needs that both they and we will have to contribute to have a successful working relationship. I am really looking forward to this process. After the FGD, we got to see a government-supported midday meal be served to the school children in the village, and went on a brief tour of the surrounding agricultural areas. This included a quick stop at a little hangout place, where workers came to sit in the shade and drink toddy brewed on the spot from the palm sap collected 80 feet off the ground by some very skilled climbers. Finally, we swung by a nearby bustling market, where vendors sold a considerable variety of interesting fruits, vegetables, and meats from tarps laid out along the street. Besides the culinary variety, we also got to experience some of the ethnic variety of India, observing at the market many members of different tribal groups that have maintained their traditional styles of dress.

We have now been working on revising and refining our survey instruments for the past two weeks. On Monday, we will take these into the field and begin our pilot testing of the MNDA Dietary Diversity survey. I speak for us all when I say we are anticipating this experience with excitement and determination to collect good data, feeling a little nervous but well-prepared for the work that lies ahead.