The Survey under Unusual Conditions: The Jamaica Human Fertility Investigation

By Kurt W. Back; J. Mayone Stycos | Go to book overview
Emphasized the effect and importance of following good examples.
Was of great financial help just at a time when life had become very difficult.
In a recent report read to an International Planned Parenthood Conference, Thelma Thomas, a project supervisor, summarized her impressions of the impact of the field work on the interviewers. Along with the comments above, it is of particular interest since it shows how the unusually taxing demands of field work can be seen, at least in retrospect, not only as highly rewarding but almost as a rare and precious experience.

Interviewing on the Jamaica Family Life Project proved to be a two way investment. It paid off both in terms of development of interviewers' personalities and widening and stimulating thought on general family living among respondents. This can perhaps be measured in terms of the mental and physical discipline that was achieved by the effects of a course of intensive training in interviewing techniques accelerated by refresher courses during the various periods in the three stages of interviewing. Thus interviewers were able to understand the importance and significance of establishing rapport among themselves as a working group; and particularly with the respondents in dealing with difficult cases--whether the difficulty lay in lack of comprehension of the interview situation, or in removing fears and superstitions regarding the interviewer's presence in any given area. The extent of personal sacrifice, application to duty, and interest of the workers can never be over-estimated. It is a pity that time is so short, because the stories which went to make the project a living example of "bringing out the good in the worst of us, and the bad in the best of us" and the reality and joy in finding an emotional level with any other human being regardless of race, colour, or class, may never appear in print.19


Reliability and Validity
We have seen that the present study deals with a number of delicate topics, that the educational level of the person interviewed was very low, that field conditions were trying, and that suspicion on the part of respondents was not infrequently encountered. Moreover we have been warned by local critics such as Braithwaite20 that responses to interview questions are subject to a wide range of distortions in reporting and interpretation in the West Indian setting. In the face of such a priori threats to validity, what has the study done to take into account the possibility of fabrication or distortion on the part of respondents? We may answer this question in two ways: First, we adopted a number of measures to block untruthful responses insofar as possible, and to encourage honesty and frankness on the part of the respondent. Second, we assumed a certain amount of unreliability and invalidity and attempted to: a) Measure its extent; b) Localize it in terms of specific respondents and interview items; and c) Interpret it.With respect to the first point, a great deal of emphasis in screening and training was placed on finding and developing the kind of interviewer who would encourage sincerity and candidness in a respondent, rather than evoking sentiments of ingratiation, subordination, or hostility. Thus, in the letter to community leaders requesting interviewer candidates, two of the six desired characteristics of the candidates were stated as follows:
a. Personality type such as to inspire confidence and to put lower-class persons at ease. It is especially important that the interviewer be of the type who herself feels at home and can act at home with lower-class persons in city and country.
b. b) Objectivity; no moral biases.

In the screening interview itself, candidates were further examined for evidence of excessive missionary zeal, attitudes of condescension toward the lower class, rigidity, etc. During the training, objectivity of approach combined with personal warmth and respect for the respondent received strong emphasis.

We naturally did not rely solely on these processes, but also attempted to build in mechanisms to maximize veracity. Where possible, for example, we tested the respondent rather than take her word on a subject. Thus, those respondents who said that they could read were, at one point in the interview, handed a recent copy of a Jamaican newspaper and asked what they thought about the headlines. They were then graded on comprehension by the interviewer. (This was handled in such a way that the average respondent did not know she was being tested. The headlines--large enough for those with poor vision--referred to birth control and the newspaper was handed to the respondent with the words, "By the way, have you seen this? What do you think of it?") Again, when respondents said they had heard of a contraceptive device mentioned by the interviewer, they were asked whether it was used by the male or female and how it was used. Here, too, their knowledge was rated by the interviewer.

Question wording and sequence also helped the respondent to discuss delicate and confidential matters. As one example, our universe was defined as mated women, whether in a married, common-law, or "visiting" relation. By means of a five-minute pre-list interview, we had to discover, among other things, whether a woman was single or in one of the three above-mentioned sexual relationships. The following procedure was used:

____________________
19
Thelma Thomas, "Educational Techniques: A Dramatization of Research in Action," paper read to the Second Regional Conference of the International Planned Parenthood Federation, Jamaica, 1958 (unpublished).
20
Braithwaite, op. cit.

-24-

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The Survey under Unusual Conditions: The Jamaica Human Fertility Investigation
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 1
  • Contents 1
  • Foreword 3
  • Field Problems and Their Solution 3
  • Interviewer Screening 5
  • Interviewer Training 14
  • Reliability and Validity 21
  • Part II - Interviewer Abilities and Interviewer Performance 24
  • Interviewer Traits 30
  • Performance Criteria 31
  • Interrelation of Traits and Performance 34
  • Mutual Reactions of Interviewers And Respondents 41
  • Summary 42
  • Appendix 47
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