Today was the last day of training for the five people I have hired to help carry out my research project.They are, overall, a really great group of guys – highly qualified, very experienced, and typically very motived. Still, what I am asking them to do is pretty difficult, and I’ve been a nervous wreck all week worrying about whether I have made a grave error in judgement with choosing this type of research for my dissertation project. We shall see.
We spent the first 2 days of training focusing on the big picture research questions and then the two separate surveys we will be running. But all of these guys have done many, many surveys, so that went pretty smoothly. We then spent the next two days going through the behavioral economics game – the trust game – that they will be facilitating. The trust game is a simply activity that allows me to measure how much someone trusts someone else using their behavior rather than how they answer survey questions. This helps to get around the problem of social desirability – if you ask someone how much they trust a person from a different ethnic group, they don’t want to look tribalistic, so they say they trust them the same as members of their own tribe. But, if you give them a dollar, and tell them they can invest any part of that dollar with a their randomly paired partner, we’ll triple the investment, and then that partner can return whatever portion of that tripled investment to them that they want, we might just see that people invest more with their tribemates than with people from different tribes. Or, at least that is what has happened elsewhere, and what I anticipate will happen here.
Anyway, the games are very difficult to run, logistically. We have 60 people per session, from four different villages. Each person has the chance to “invest” with someone from each of the other four villages, and then serves as the investee for a different individual from each of the four villages. This amounts to a lot of small Kwacha bills, 240 envelopes marked with numeric identifiers, and lots of confused participants. In addition, the staff have to be able to keep each envelope tied to both surveys, one conducted a week before. So, all said, it’s not easy, even for such a smart and experienced staff.
After two days of going through the game, we spent two days across four villages, and conducting 60 hour-long interviews. Then, on the third day, we ran our first game session in an elementary school near those four villages. Because the school was the only structure we could find to hold the games, we had to wait until school was out at 12 noon before starting the game. With my estimate of 4 hours to compete the game, and the fact that the sun sets at 5 and there is no electricity in the village, I was nervous.
It turns out that I had reason to be. While things went pretty well over all, it took MUCH longer than I thought. Let me just give you an image: at 6:30 pm, in the pitch dark, I was covered in about an inch of dust, hunched over in front of the car headlights, counting out dirty 20 Kwacha notes to give to hungry and tired participants before they started their walk home in the dark. No fun.
We made some changes today in order to try to shorten things, and interviewers always take the longest the first time they go through something, since they haven’t yet had a chance to put all the things learned in training to use. I can only hope things will go faster in the field.
In sum, I am exhausted, nervous, but slightly optimistic that this thing might actually work in the end.
I am driving to Kasungu on Sunday, where I’ll be camping out in a resthouse for 1.5 to 2 weeks, spending all day in the village. I probably won’t have internet, so I’ll update when I get back.
In the meantime, here are some pictures from the pilot game day.