Using “Case Studies through Participatory Evaluation” as a complement to Quantitative Research

One of the premises on which research is based, is the quality of the data collected. That is, the assurance that researchers are eliciting correct information from their respondents. We can be confident that this is the case for information related to age, education level, occupation, and income. However for topics related to more sensitive issues such as domestic violence, sex preferences, food security, and indebtedness, ensuring honest answers is far trickier.

Aware of this challenge, researchers have put in considerable efforts in developing very detailed and accurate questionnaires as well as methods of administering these, so as to encourage true responses. Nevertheless, we should always be looking towards new innovative methods to improve our data collection.

A recent approach gaining influence in general evaluation and monitoring of projects is the use of participatory filming. With this method, individuals from a targeted community are personally involved in evaluating and monitoring their own lives over time and space. Preeya and Murali Nair, film-makers and founders of Flying Elephant Films a company which produces a diverse range of their documentaries and fictional programmes, decided to dedicate their passion and knowledge to create the Art for Change Trust. Through this organisation, they train individuals from underprivileged communities to use the video-media in order to document their own lives. In one such project, aimed at Lambadi women workers in Hyderabad, the women took the camera and through this tool, their lives in their own hands. The intimate stories revealed during this process hinted at issues from indebtedness to female infanticide:

Using “Case Studies” alone cannot form the back-bone of research – the life of one person is not necessarily a reflection of the lives of 1000 others and focusing or suggesting answers from a case study is far from being rigorous. Furthermore, information from specific case studies is not necessarily free of any participatory bias. Clearly, the most efficient and cost-effective way of getting “on average” accurate and consistent information is through quantitative questionnaires. However, using participatory approaches such as filming can provide insights into issues which can be overlooked by traditional questionnaires, thereby guiding and improving quantitative research. 
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  1. Five years were spent to conduct a research on the impact of micro-finance in Hyderbabad (same city). The project was led by two of the most well known experts on the use of RCTs in social sciences. RCTs by their design are expected to produce the most clear inferences by removing selection biases and controlling for confounding variables. I am sure a great of resources (human and financial) were spent on the entire research. The PIs on their part maintained intellectual integrity and reported the results as they were derived. Yet after the study was published an attempt was made to spin it off and claim that results were inconclusive and critiques were blocked. All this really makes you wonder whether we are prepared to accept the "accurate and consistent information" as you put it. Maybe evaluators themselves are not sure what they want to do. Good Luck!



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