Building Networks in the Field by Rebeccah Onwong’a

At the beginning of the project, fieldwork was not an enjoyable task. I could spend the whole day in the field and go back home without data. However, as the project advanced, I got to understand the dynamics in the field. Since then, I have always looked forward to fieldwork. I enjoyed meeting new people from different backgrounds and with different perceptions. I enjoyed listening to their stories. Sometimes, the stories could be the same but told differently. In other times, the stories could be completely different. Overall, I am glad I learnt a lot and the experience was out of this world. The whole experience was a process and I would like to share some tricks that can make fieldwork enjoyable.

The first and most important thing is to build networks. When you are starting to build new networks, you need to do it with an open mind. This is because the networks might last or not last. Therefore, capitalize on every opportunity that you get. Just like a plant that needs to be watered and pruned, the networks also need to be nurtured. A phone call even when you are not going to the field will make a big difference. The networks are built on trust. Therefore, you need to honour your promises. Do not make promises that you cannot keep.
Secondly, choosing participants can make your day or ruin it. Before recruiting somebody into the study, spend the first few minutes getting to know the participant well. By doing this, you can smell trouble from a distance and avoid it. If you are using a guide to recruit participants, you need to explain to him or her criteria that will be used. While some participants cooperate, some may be hostile especially if they realize that at the end of the discussion, their expectations were not met. Therefore, you need to spell out the terms of engagement at the beginning of the interview. The participants’ characteristics vary depending on the location, time of the day, religious affiliation, and ethnic group. I was working in Kibera, Kangemi and Dandora. The areas are low-income area but the people are very different. In Kibera for example, the people are not afraid of interacting with strangers. On the other hand, the people in Kangemi are conservative and they mistrust people they are not familiar with. Therefore, you have to make several visits to the same village before they can trust you. Dandora is different from the two sites. The people are afraid to talk to strangers because they are afraid of being victimised by gangs.
Finally, patience is a virtue. If things do not work out, be patient and keep trying. You can also consider changing the tactics.

About the author: Rebeccah Onwong’a was a project researcher on the DirtPol project and was concerned primarily with issues pertaining to dirt in health and environment. She has recently left DirtPol to pursue her career in education. Rebeccah’s based in Nairobi, her academic background is in Biology and she gained her Masters degree in Belgium.

About the project: DirtPol is an international cultural studies project based at the University of Sussex. For more information please visit the DirtPol website.

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