Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Challenges of managing a long-distance project

One of the most difficult aspects of doing fieldwork in Ukenzagapia for me has been communicating with my field assistants. They both have cell phones, but if they are out of range because they are on the wrong side of a hill or something then I have to send them a text message because they don't have voicemail. Also, it is too expensive for them to call me so I have to call them back and hope that they're in range.

The time change is also very inconvenient. I have to call them first thing in the morning so that I don't call them too late in the evening. If I forget or have something else planned, I have to wait until the next day unless I stay up late to call them.

It's also expensive. I use Skype to call their cell phones (they definitely do not have Skype since they don't have computers) and it's 25-30 cents per minute. I can waste a lot of money if we get disconnected repeatedly because their signal isn't great. I'm going to look for cheaper options.

Then of course there's language. Sometimes I worry that if I ask yes or no questions they'll always say yes. We speak in a mix of English and Ukenzagapese, and I choose my English words carefully. The mental translation from one language to another also slows down conversation.

All of these things make it difficult to manage a project that my field assistants have started while I'm gone. If all goes well, things will be all set to start an experiment when I return to Ukenzagapia in a few months. I'm not counting on it, but it sure would be nice.

This morning I was able to get a good update from one of my field assistants on the status of the project, and it actually sounds like things are going pretty well. We got disconnected twice but if we're understanding each other correctly then they've completed one part of the experiment preparation. I've been concerned that we had only a narrow window in which to complete the prep but it turns out we might have a much larger window of opportunity.

1 comment:

EcoGeoFemme said...

Wow, that does sound difficult. Good luck!