Academic journal article Demographic Research

Constructing a Survey over Time: Audio-Visual Feedback and Theatre Sketches in Rural Mali

Academic journal article Demographic Research

Constructing a Survey over Time: Audio-Visual Feedback and Theatre Sketches in Rural Mali

Article excerpt

Abstract

Knowledge dissemination is an emerging issue in population studies, both in terms of ethics and data quality. The challenge is especially important in long term follow-up surveys and it requires methodological imagination when the population is illiterate. The paper presents the dissemination project developed in a demographic surveillance system implemented in rural Mali over the last 20 years. After basic experience of document transfer, the feedback strategy was developed through audiovisual shows and theatre sketches. The advantages and drawbacks of these media are discussed, in terms of scientific communication and the construction of dialogue with the target population.

1. Introduction

Disseminating research results to a survey population, and more generally to a non-specialized audience, is considered as an important, if not vital, process for most researchers and survey leaders. However, the principle is one thing - putting it into practice is another.

One main difficulty lies in our lack of competence in matters of communication. Finding attractive catch lines, simplifying our ideas without deforming them, using clear and forceful but non-specialized language, are not part of the academic skills taught at university. Popularizing and informing also mean detaching oneself from one's professional milieu and accepting challenges that are far removed from the researcher's usual scientific concerns (Bergier 2000; Bizeul 2008; Fassin and Bensa 2008; Flamand 2005; Kobelinsky 2008). Informing survey populations about our research findings calls for specific investments in time, skills, and resources, which are rarely taken into account in research projects and receive scant academic acknowledgement. In addition, knowledge dissemination tends to clash with end-of-project constraints, such as budget issues and the redeployment of the team in new projects with consequent scheduling problems. All of these factors cause those involved to scale down the operation - if not discard it altogether.

These common constraints are shared by all surveys, but additional ones occur when 1) research concerns a population with an oral culture and 2) the survey covers a long period of time.

(1) Addressing a population that scarcely uses the written word, if at all, obviously requires the mobilization of specific tools and a certain conceptual imagination. In such cases, handing over documents such as the 'summary report of findings' often used to summarize survey findings in western countries, hardly constitutes an efficient communication strategy. Moreover, being unfamiliar with a written language is more than a matter of paper and pencils or reading and writing. It also changes the way ideas are formalized and expressed in abstract terms, and does not correspond to the linear, continuous approach of the written word. It obliges us to review the way we represent information and our modes of communication.

(2) Carrying out a research project over time with a multi-round survey requires specific conditions for gathering data and developing relationships with respondents. This is the case for the demographic surveillance systems5 implemented in developing countries, which involve regular exhaustive surveys of local communities over periods of up to several decades or more. Unlike usual single-round surveys, where exchanges with the population are anonymous and take place just once, monitoring a population over time involves repeated personal exchanges. The same questions6 are asked every time, the respondents are known by name, and the team in the field (interviewer, interpreter, and survey leader) often remains unchanged over a number of years. The regular presence is favourable to interpersonal exchanges and enables discussion, disagreement, and even protest to emerge, which are more unusual in one-off surveys. Furthermore, the methodological choice of a demographic surveillance project usually entails a systematic and exhaustive survey of a delimited population, and high expectations in terms of data quality. …

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