Updated: Jan 5, 2021
Image Courtesy: Nikhil S
I have been spending most of my time in front of the screen now and I couldn’t help but remember the good old days of craft research in Longpi, Manipur. I am probably writing this to my future self to cherish the memories and lessons from the research visit. It was a time when travel was safe and we preferred our research interviews in person. I, along with my two friends, visited a beautiful village of Longpi in the Ukhrul district of Manipur in early December 2019. It was my first time in Manipur and I was super excited to explore the place. This excitement also had a tinge of nervousness of not knowing the language, food, geography and anything practical about the state even after multiple google searches. This visit taught many lessons at a personal as well as professional level. After revisiting it all in my head, here are the lessons I learnt as a researcher on the field-
1. Be ready with Plan B
There is immaculate planning before heading out to the field. The research front is well prepared, travel and accommodation are sorted, the itinerary is worked out but there is still room for spontaneity. Be ready to embrace the sudden turn of events. It is always a smart choice to have plan B but keep an open mind to adapt to the changes beyond your control. The best insights come from the unplanned course of conversation. Keep your observation game strong and let the events unfold naturally.
2. Erase the line between ‘us’ and ‘them’
Meeting different people in their cultural setting can be overwhelming. It is natural to be fascinated with everything and everyone around you. It may also be a not-so-pleasant experience but try to get rid of these thoughts and step into the shoes of a professional researcher here. It is not about you nor your feelings but a larger goal of understanding the people around you. Respect the differences and take a neutral ground of observation. You will see a whole new side of the participants when you keep your interpretations aside.
3. Be efficient and ready to multitask
Time is a luxury during field research. There are multiple things to take care of and a limited amount of time. Try to use your time wisely and get ready to multitask. Distribute the work among the team members to utilize every moment efficiently. It is never going to be sufficient time to conduct field research so be ready to run errands and get things done as fast as possible.
4. Set realistic goals
Taking from the previous lesson, the time is never sufficient but that doesn’t call for an overambitious schedule. Be realistic and practical while planning your visit. Keep a flexible time window for spontaneous change of plans. It is common to set high expectations while planning and scheduling the work but the situation on the field may look completely different. Let the timelines be realistic so you can be the best version of yourself without over exhausting on day one itself.
5. Shut down and step out
Interviews and field notes are great during the field visit but you know what else is great? It’s being a little touristy and enjoying the local cuisine and lifestyle. Try managing your time and schedule to take a walk down the street and wander around without having to worry about pictures, notes, recordings. Use this time reboot and appreciate the diversity you keep noticing in people, their lifestyle, beliefs, behaviour, and culture.
Being a researcher out in the field is a thrilling and enriching experience. I tried to recollect my learnings to be slightly wiser and prepared for the next time. I truly believe that great design comes from great stories. Field research to me is the quest for such great stories with deep impact on people’s lives.
Image Courtesy: Nikhil S