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5.2. Analytical limitations

Analytical limitations that can be identified with regard to economic behavioral studies are similar to some of those previously discussed concerning human capital studies (Table 4). Samples of households or individuals included do not usually represent the most impoverished population groups; for those groups, the economic effects of supplementation or of short-term changes in food availability may be significantly greater than are measured. Whether a study involves supplementation or exogenous changes in food availability and/or in labor requirements, the size of the experimental effect is never known in advance, and is likely to be variable between individuals.

Table 4. Analytical limitations of economical behavioral studies

Analytical limitations.

Effect on estimate of economic consequences:

1. Bias in selection of study population


2. A priori unknown level of experimental effect


3. Measurement errors (income; energy intake)


Some of the key variables such as household income and daily energy intake are subject to substantial measurement errors. Systematic income reporting errors may not be a serious problem in longitudinal studies. Incomplete quantification of all components of total income may lead to either an over- or underestimate of economic impacts. Energy intake data generated by 24-hour recall surveys usually result in insensitive indicators in respect to the impact of supplementation or of external short-term changes.

6. Participation of the community in research

Participatory (action) research refers to direct involvement of the group for whose benefit the research is conducted in the design and implementation of the research, for the purpose of undertaking actions to solve social problems. It has been stated that popular participation is essential for development, and that development is in fact participation (OAKLEY and MARSDEN, 1984). One can view participation as a bottom-up process that leads to grass-roots organization which allows the poor to participate actively in deciding their own course of development and to take an active responsibility in the implementation and evaluation of development actions. This view also emphasizes the fact that the poor must be trained to be able to participate effectively, by means of raising their social consciousness and their level of technical skill. People must first fully understand their own reality and the underlying causes of poverty problems, before they can devise and prioritize solutions. Furthermore, they must also have the technical means to validate solutions. These represent two relevant areas where participatory research methodology can be applied and make a contribution - if we accept the premise that all research should lead to action, either immediately or in the future.

The dimensions of participatory (action) research have been detailed by JACOB (1985) as follows:

(a) Participatory research is based on real-world, concrete experiences, and not only on thought processes.

(b) The selection of the problem to be studied and the definition of the research objectives are not based upon theory or hypotheses to be (dis-)proven, but are based on a real-world situation.

(c) Researchers work with real groups in their own setting, and not with groups of individuals who do not relate coherently for social reasons.

(d) The main objective is to produce an effective change at group and/or institutional levels.

(e) Participatory research has as one of its objectives to support processes of change.

(f) Participatory research should be multidisciplinary in nature.

(g) The research process is usually conducted on a small scale, but attempts to reach more general conclusions.

(h) Participatory research sheds light in a reciprocal way on theory and practice.

(i) Hypotheses are inductively postulated, based upon observation of facts, and not deductively based upon existing theory.

(j) The results of the research should serve in defining strategies for actions.

(k) The external researchers are fully involved in the research process, not only as observers of reality, but as active participants in actions.

The process of participatory research usually starts with a self-diagnosis ("auto-diagnostico") which allows members of the group to transform subjective perceptions of the realities of daily life into a more objective and analytical comprehension of the problems they confront as well as of their underlying causes (NUÑEZ, 1985). AS tools of the self-diagnosis, existing data may be used and/or the group may choose to obtain data using simple data collection instruments. Once the group has prioritized problems and actions, and programs or projects are underway, there is a need for the group to monitor and evaluate these. For this the same data collection instruments may continue to be used by the group, or others developed and implemented.

There has been considerable debate among Latin American sociologists, for example, regarding the pros and cons of participatory research versus traditional research approaches (FALS BORDA and RODRIGUEZ BRANDAO, 1985). Particularly important is the role of the external researcher in participatory research. This role is best characterized as the facilitator and co-investigator. The external researcher brings a certain scientific and technical knowledge to the research problems which should be shared with the group, without imposing or advocating a particular interpretation of observed phenomena. The external researcher should transfer technical knowledge which enables the group to take responsibility for data collection, tabulation and interpretation.

Participation by the external researcher requires a long-term commitment and an effective incorporation within the group. The benefits do not run one way only, of course, as the external researcher represents the link between the scientific community-at-large and the group(s) undertaking the research with participatory methods. This provides opportunities for the participatory experiences to be internalized by the external scientific group, guiding further research and making it more relevant to solving problems.

7. Concluding remarks

CED studies have used cross-sectional or longitudinal designs. In terms of measurement of the socioeconomic consequences, the latter are preferable, because the intertemporal behavioral assumptions in cross-sectional designs are tenuous and in general tend to result in underestimation of the socioeconomic effects. But longitudinal studies are more costly, and the higher costs must be weighed against the benefits of increased precision in measurement of economic outcomes. When the research is conducted for advocacy purposes, the additional precision in measurement is not required. Instead, field studies should concentrate on populations at the extreme lower end of the distribution of human capital (i.e., the most impoverished) in which the socioeconomic effects may be expected to be robust.

In order for results of CED field studies to be most relevant for policy and program formulation, study designs should be as "natural" as possible. This includes using as experimental variables the normally occurring (short-term) variations in food availability and/or in opportunities for productive activities. Artificial interventions (often imposed upon study populations) introduce additional elements which may obscure socioeconomic effects, and produce results which cannot easily be operationalized.

Admittedly, short-term variations in food availability and/or in opportunities for productive activities provide measurement of short-term adjustments and little in the way of long-term adjustments due to chronic conditions. But one can argue that the seasonally occurring variations are part of chronic conditions and, in populations which are chronically deficient, the frequently recurring food shortages or increases in labor requirements superimposed upon chronic deficiency conditions are particularly harmful and perhaps of greater relevance in terms of socioeconomic effects. The solutions derived from the results of these studies may also be more viable. Other experimental variables which may be considered and which often have a more chronic effect are food prices (particularly relevant to populations in marginal urban areas) and long-term employment opportunities.

Participatory research methods appear particularly relevant to poverty questions. We postulate that CED field research should lead directly to actions which effectively solve poverty problems, i.e., the measurement of the socioeconomic consequences of CED for advocacy purposes alone is not likely to be very effective in obtaining political commitments and the resources needed to solve poverty problems. The relevant studies cited in this paper have probably had little impact in that sense. Research designed to test hypotheses based upon theory alone may not necessarily provide the type of evidence which is immediately transferable for policy, program or project formulation. Participatory research may offer an appropriate alternative means, at least for decision-making and action-taking at community level.

It is clear that the questions that can be answered by participatory research methods are different from those answerable by conventional field studies. The two types of methods should be seen as complementary and mutually enriching, but directed at different audiences. Participatory research methods require a change of attitude (and perhaps of commitment) on the part of the scientific researcher. Greater efforts should be made in conventional field studies to provide continuous feedback to participating population groups with data which may serve them as a basis for decision-making and action-taking.


Economic studies related to chronic energy deficiency

Economic behavioral studies proposed hypotheses

1. During periods of increased demand for their labor services, economically active members increase their energy intake, maintain energy balance and stable body composition, and shift a greater share of time toward work activities. The degree of this shift will depend on the number of economically active members present in the household.

2. In response to reduced labor demand, economically active household members reduce their energy intake, maintain energy balance and stable body composition, and shift a greater share of time toward leisure and home production activities.

3. An increase in household food supplies in the absence of increased demand for labor services, results in more energy-intensive use of leisure and home production time, without a change in the relative time distribution, and in an increase in energy intake while maintaining energy balance and stable body composition.

4. In response to reduced household food supplies under conditions of unchanged demand for labor services, energy intake is reduced while energy balance and stable body composition are maintained, and the use of leisure and home production time is reduced in energy-intensity while maintaining the relative time distribution shares between work and non-work activities.

5. Under conditions of simultaneously occurring reductions in household food supplies and increased demand for labor services (the "critical period"), economically active household members will shift more time to work activities, with the degree of this shift depending on the number of economically active members present in the household and on their body composition and energy reserve status at the start of this period, and will reduce energy expenditure in leisure and home production activities and redistribute food supplies among household members in favor of economically active members.

6. Under conditions of simultaneously occurring increases in household food supplies and decreased demand for labor services, economically active household members will shift more time towards leisure and home production activities, redistribute foods towards other household members, and increase energy stores by a minimal amount.

7. An increase in household food supplies by means of supplementation during a period of increased demand for labor services will result in an increase in energy intake of economically active household members, a shift of time towards work activities, and more energy-intensive use of leisure and home production time, while they maintain energy balance and stable body composition.


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