Note: This post was written by Edison’s Senior Vice President Rob Farbman, who recently returned from a research project covering multiple countries in Africa.
Edison’s expansion in Africa includes recent research projects in Mauritania, Mali, Ivory Coast, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Senegal. As our business in Africa grows, we continue to live by the rule that “all research is local.”. Even within the confines of French speaking West Africa, a methodology that works in Nouakchott may not work in Kinshasa. And a question wording that makes sense to a 25 year old in Bamako may mean something different to a person of the same age in Abidjan.
Edison has built its success conducting research in the Middle East and Africa through our strong relationships with the best local research teams. Finding a fieldwork partner that knows the local customs, has access to quality field staff, and that shares Edison’s obsession with data quality is essential. This search starts with a thorough vetting of potential local partners, then continues with in-depth training and supervision by Edison staff.
In West Africa, the challenge of conducting research is exacerbated by the fact that some countries have an extremely limited research infrastructure. To address this, we established three levels of quality control and supervision in each country we do research. We first identified a research firm in Senegal with capabilities to coordinate local research teams in a number of different countries in the region. We then added to the team Mohamed Kamal, the Managing Director of MOI, a respected research firm in Egypt. Having worked with Edison for ten years, Mohamed knew how precise we demand field work and was the perfect “man on the ground” to personally supervise each of our projects. Finally, Edison engaged in thorough training of management staff and supervisors.
I recently spent time in Dakar, Senegal managing a media research project. This particular study is quite extensive. It can last two hours and the interviews involves some multi-media aspects. We determined that administering the survey in our research office rather than in people’s homes was the ideal methodology. When conducting a similar study in Bamako, Mali, we had encountered a strong reluctance by respondents to come to our office and our sampling and production stalled. In the Mali study, we adjusted our plan and used only in-home interviews. In Dakar, we decided to test out the in-office methodology again. We were happy to not find the same reluctance to come to a central location. However because the lower income groups were harder to sample in areas convenient to the research facility, we decided to go with a hybrid method. By conducting some of the interviews in the field office with street recruits and the remainder in people’s homes, we were able to produce a more representative cross section of respondents.
Also backing the “all research is local” mantra was the confusion we encountered during our pre-testing of the questionnaire. When asking about a certain kind of music we asked how much they liked the music, and also whether or not they were tired of the music. In the United States people can relate to the concept of becoming “tired” of something they actually really like. But in Dakar, we found that at least based on our question wording, the Senegalese didn’t make the same distinction – if you love something, how can you be tired of it? During pre-testing we encountered some other minor issues with respondents understanding questions and they were adjusted as needed and the fielding proceeded successfully.
On top of multi-level quality check, completing a quality research project in Africa takes a lot of trial and error and a willingness to shift course when needed. I’m sure Edison will learn something new wherever the next project takes us!