Friday, September 03, 2010

Research Methods - Dusting off Unused Skills

The Russian Museum of Ethnography
has a fun collection of hats! 

One year in the mid-90s my big project was working on a book about the world's unreached people groups. There wasn't much on the Internet in those days; we used what we could find, but also went to the library and did a heck of a lot of networking.

Similarly, when we were getting ready to do an ethnographic research project we'd put great efforts into learning as much as we could about the cultures and ways of life of our host peoples. We'd round up all the books, videos, and articles we could find, and glean the best stuff to pass on to the research team members as part of their "pre-reading." Then, we'd go out and see how much of it was still true and how it had shaped who the people were today.

Doing that kind of work - and being a natural hunter-gatherer - made me the go-to person in our office for info about unreached peoples. I knew where to find stuff on the web, I had lots of stuff in my big file cabinet, and I had a pretty functional network of regional experts, networks, and strategy coordinators who were willing to help people who wanted to find out more. Some were students working on papers, maybe for a Perspectives class. Others were part of churches that had "adopted" a group about which they knew relatively little, or were planning a visit to learn and pray on-site.

These days nobody asks me. That's mostly because more and more people have learned the basic strategies they need to get this kind of information on their own. Even with our research teams I haven't had to do much digging on my own. In some cases I meant to but ran out of time. In others, someone else was handing me what I needed to know. I was discouraged from being "geeky" about it by putting much effort into digging up more; overachievers make everyone feel bad, you know. After all, the important stuff was what we would learn on the ground when we got there.

Now, expecting to do another ethnography project, I have the time and leisure to do more "pre-search" for myself. I pulled up a bunch of stuff from the Internet, know which box of my old files might hold the relevant treasures, and think I've persuaded the guy who asked me to help with the project to introduce me to some folks in-country. It's going to be fun!

Note: Yes, the next project will be in Russia, though I'd rather not share the specifics in a public post like this. Want to see more funky headgear from RME? start with this one and click through on the images to the right.

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