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This manual is designed for collecting sufficient data on diet and food use patterns to enable the design of an intervention program to improve vitamin A in the area to which the data apply. Policymakers and planners at various levels-in the health ministry, other interested ministries, and NGOs-will want to be assured that these data are credible and useful for planning a vitamin A intervention. Your research report should describe the ways in which these data meet standards of reliability and validity at a level sufficient for developing an intervention.
The following are some typical questions that administrators and other policy makers may raise concerning the type of data produced by using this manual.
i. How do you know that these data are valid and reliable?
The major strength of this type of ethnographic research is in the idea of triangulation. The concept of triangulation refers to the fact that the important data are obtained from multiple sources. That is, specific points about food use behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs are obtained from in-depth interviews with key-informants and also from the structured interviews with samples of respondents. For some items, the researchers' direct observations further strengthen the level of evidence.
When there are discrepancies or conflicts between the different sources of information, the researcher explores those points in more depth with key-informants. For example, if a key-informant says that "people don't eat _____________(vitamin A-rich food), even though it is available...," the food frequency data from the sample of families provides a check on the accuracy of that statement.
ii. Isn't the sample of twenty-five or thirty respondents too small to permit any generalization about a community or population?
The suitability of sample size depends very much on the degree of homogeneity or consistency in the phenomena studied. Generally speaking, people's food behaviors and diets in most areas are strongly patterned. Meal patterns and diets in developing countries, especially in rural areas, are very consistent, or even monotonous as compared with food patterns in industrialized regions. Knowledge about food, as well as attitudes about it, are also quite consistent, though we find differences between the wealthier and poorer families and also between different ethnic groups. The manual is designed to be used primarily in communities that are ethnically (culturally) homogeneous. In areas with multiple ethnic groups, the sample size will have to be increased.
People in given communities, particularly in rural areas, not only share cultural values and behavior patterns to some extent, but they are also under the same ecological constraints. They buy food from the same markets and stores. They have generally similar crop-growing conditions. All those environmental factors contribute to the tendencies toward food-use similarities, even among ethnically distinct groups. However, the researchers using this manual should be alert to main sources of intra-community variations in dietary practices and other features. All communities have some systematic variations in cultural beliefs and behaviors. Key-informants often mention such local variations (e.g., caste differences in Indian villages) and researchers should probe for those local differences. Even with small sample sizes we can get a sufficiently accurate assessment for intervention planning purposes.
iii. How strong in reliability and validity do our data have to be for planning effective intervention programs concerning food use and dietary practices?
Of course, program planners and policymakers should insist on having really solid data for developing intervention programs concerning vitamin A, as in all other program planning. On the other hand, many intervention programs are launched with very little advance data-gathering. It is important to establish a realistic middle ground by insisting that any intervention planning should be preceded by a reasonable, economically feasible data-gathering stage.
On the other hand, the background data for planning intervention programs do not need to be statistically and epidemiologically justified. Dietary intervention programs are continually in contact with the people from whom the original background data were collected. Continued data monitoring during the program provides an opportunity for upgrading the background data and correcting misinterpretations. Therefore, all intervention programs should have built-in data-gathering, along with other programmatic activities.
iv. What about the generalizability of these kinds of data to other regions?
Any data, whether from ethnographic studies or carefully quantified surveys, are, strictly speaking, generalizable only to the populations within which the studies were made. On the other hand, we expect main features of the research results to be applicable to communities and regions that are basically similar to the original research site, in terms of the cultural backgrounds of the people and the ecological/economic setting in which they live. For that reason, the communities selected for studies using this manual should be broadly representative of the region or province in which vitamin A interventions are planned.
Program planners are generally aware of the main ethnic (cultural) variations in their regions. They also need to pay attention to the main ecological zones, with different crops, different food resources, different relationships to markets, and commercial food distribution systems.
Because of the high degree of cultural patterning of food practices (mentioned above), program planners can expect to apply the data from this research to other communities in the same ecological region, provided the people are of the same general cultural background. Where minor dialectical and subcultural differences are found, it is often possible to make some adjustments to the data, based on small numbers of key-informant interviews.
Not all groups planning intervention programs will be able to afford microcomputer equipment. Also, many organizations do not at this time have persons with good skills in the use and maintenance of microcomputers. Therefore, the guidelines in this manual are written so that you can carry out all the information gathering operations completely without use of microcomputers.
The use of microcomputers has spread rapidly in many parts of the developing world and even midsized organizations have found it advantageous to adopt the use of computers for their report-writing and information management. This section outlines some of the ways you can use microcomputers in connection with the data-gathering if your organization has the equipment, or plans to obtain microcomputers soon.
This section is not a full tutorial concerning the use of microcomputers. If you are using the computer in the assessment, your main sources of basic information on computer use are the operating manual, the manual of instructions for your word processing program (and any other programs), plus your local computer specialist.
Writing and Storing Fieldnotes
The biggest advantage in the use of microcomputers is in writing and storing the notes from your interviews and other observations. As described in Appendix 5 concerning fieldnotes, by far the easiest way to write out all the basic information in your situation assessment is to write directly into the computer. The standard word processing program in most parts of the world at this time is the widely known WordPerfect, although other programs are equally acceptable, particularly if they are readily convertible into WordPerfect.
Using a word processing program in the computer is just like using a typewriter, but easier, because when you have learned the basic operations of the computer, you can quickly erase your mistakes. Also, word processing programs include all kinds of special additions, including underlining, boldfaced type, changing the margins (like on a typewriter) and inserting words and phrases into the middle of what you have already written (something you cannot do with a typewriter).
Each interview that you and your team complete should be written as a separate file. Also, each separate block of observations should be a separate file. These files are given names that help you to locate or identify them later, when you are looking for certain kinds of information.
Naming of files in Your Computerized Fieldnotes:
In the usual microcomputer system, you name the individual files (separate documents) with a front name that can have up to eight characters, plus an extension of no more than three characters. The extension is usually used to indicate the type of document in the file. For example, .LET can be the extension of the letters;. RPT indicates reports; and. PRO means proposals.
If your assessment team consists of three persons and each of you writes up three or four files per day, you will soon have dozens, and then hundreds of files. That sounds very confusing and you might feel that it would be impossible to find specific files when you need them later. However, it is quite easy to search through masses of files to find specific information using the computer. We will further discuss that feature below.
Here are some general points concerning use of the microcomputer for writing and storing all those fieldnotes and interviews:
i. In writing fieldnotes, be sure that the date, time, place, and researcher's identity are recorded at the beginning of each file.
ii. Make a hard copy (printed copy) of each file. You should keep a file of fieldnotes that can be scanned and read without the computer. Your fieldnote file should be kept in a locked drawer where unauthorized persons cannot access the notes.
iii. Keep a backup copy of all fieldnotes and other computer files, on diskettes. Diskettes are the 3.5 inch or 5.25 inch plastic inserts onto which the microcomputer records information. Most microcomputers have hard-disks inside the machine, into which your files are stored, but the diskettes permit you to store extra copies of files.
These backup copies, like your paper copies of fieldnotes, should be stored in a locked and secure place. In fact, it is recommended that your backup copies be stored at your home. If your office building were to be damaged by fire or other catastrophe, the backup files would still be safe.
iv. Keep an up-to-date hard copy (printed copy) of the List of Files, annotated with a bit of information about your file-naming system.
Searching for Materials Using Gofer
One major advantage of storing all your interviews and other materials in computer files is that you can find very specific things easily, using a general search program. Your word processor, (WordPerfect, WordStar, Word, or whatever you are using) has a search program, but it only searches in the file that is currently active in the computer.
Gofer is a quite useful program that permits you to search through masses of files rapidly, to find particular words that can guide you to any particular material you are looking for. There are other programs with similar capabilities, but Gofer is quite easy to learn and its current price is less than U.S. $100.
Suppose you wish to find all the information you have thus far about traditional foods. You can put Gofer into operation and indicate that you wish to find all the places where traditional is mentioned. Gofer asks you to name all the files or directories that should be searched, so you indicate the directory that has all the past fieldnotes of interviews, observations, etc.
Gofer searches through the files, one at a time and each time it finds the word traditional, that file is on your screen, so you can see the information in context. Then you can select that paragraph or any size chunk you wish. The chunk can be copied into a separate file, or can be printed out as a paper copy. The program then proceeds to the next place where traditional appears and you repeat the process.
At the end of the search and retrieval, Gofer presents you with a list of all the files in which the word traditional was found and how many times.
You now have a file, either a computer file or a paper file, of all your materials concerning traditional.
This example serves to remind you that, if you want to be able to find the materials later, your notes have to be specific. You have to write the word traditional in the notes (anywhere in the notes). Gofer will not find the information if your notes only had the comment that "these are foods that we used to gather in earlier days." You need to put in the key words that you wish to locate later.
Gofer is one of those programs that stays resident when you first start it up. That is, you can start up Gofer and then go on writing in your word processor. Perhaps you were writing a report of some kind and needed to find some specific information that involved the traditional foods. You would simply start up Gofer without shutting down your word processing program. When you found the specific piece of notes about traditional foods that you were looking for, you could import that block of text directly from the other file into the report or document you are currently in the middle of.
This feature will be extremely valuable when you are in the process of writing your answers to the research questions, for example. Many times, while you are writing your answer to a question, you will remember another piece of important information in another file. Instead of "letting your fingers do the walking" through piles of paper; let Gofer search through all those computer files.
Using Anthropac for the Pile Sorts, Ratings of Foods, and Other Structured Data
Module 1 directs you to gather information about how people sort the basic food list into groups. From this sorting, you get interesting new information about the criteria (the attributes or qualities) people use to place foods into different groups or categories. Using those data does not require that you use a computer program. On the other hand, you can do some very interesting additional analysis using the microcomputer program, Anthropac. Also, the data that you gather in Module 3, concerning peoples' ratings of the various foods (using different qualities or attributes), can be put into the computer so you can look at which foods are rated as similar by your respondents. You can also use Anthropac to look at the similarities and differences among your twenty-five to thirty respondents. Anthropac has a wide range of different routines and you will use only a few of them. Here is a brief description of the routines in this program that are most likely to be useful for you:
i. Enter your matrix of data on food ratings by each respondent. You can put in a data set with each line (row) representing a person and each column representing a rating on a particular food.
Anthropac has an editor (like a word processor's, only simpler) that can be used for constructing small-scale data files. When you have only twenty-five to thirty interviews, you can easily enter the data directly into the Anthropac editor and then do some simple descriptive statistics, using the Univariate subroutine.
(On the other hand, if your organization already uses some other statistical program, it is best that you use whatever has become standard practice in the organization.)
ii. You can also enter the pile sort data into Anthropac and look at the way the food types are clustered, based on the ways in which people put the items into groups. This gives a statistically powerful view of the patterning of foods in the community. (Directions for carrying out the Pile Sort analysis and related analyses are provided with Anthropac.) These are easy-to-learn computer routines, if you have an adviser in your program who knows how to use computer programs.
This section has very brief comments on a few of the many things that you can do with microcomputers. The most likely primary use, as we noted above, is that you use the computer as a writing machine. For that all you need is the computer, the word processing program, and a printer.
Gofer is very useful and you should strongly consider getting it if you are using the computer for all your fieldnotes.
There are a great many other computer programs that you might use and perhaps your organization already has some other activities with the special programs that go with them.
If you have not yet used microcomputers in your organization, then it would be important to consult funding sources and other advisers, about the feasibility of adopting the use of microcomputers for the research and intervention programs.
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