Governance Diaries

In the fourth blog in this series, our ARISE co-researchers (John Mutinda, Lydia Akwabi, Judith Achieng, Famuel Omwaka, Daniel Obiero, and Joel Mburu) explain how they worked with participants to create and analyse governance diaries, undertaken as part of the social and governance terrain study. Supported by researchers (Caroline Kabaria, Ivy Chumo and Blessing Mberu).

The final exercise in this process involved the creation and analysis of governance diaries. This process made us feel as though we were taking a journey with our participants, getting a sense of their lives. This exercise created bonds of trust and friendship, and presented us with an opportunity to dig deeper into governance aspects because, with subsequent visits, respondents felt more at ease around us and opened up to share more sensitive information.

Community profiling, social mapping and ground-truthing were all necessary steps in order for us to create these governance diaries. The activity involved one on one interviews/conversations with vulnerable and marginalized groups who were identified during the social mapping phase. We followed up with the four top-ranked categories identified as marginalized or part of vulnerable groups. The groups included daycare owners, child-headed households, disabled persons, and older persons.

For the purpose of representation, the study team selected participants for each category from each village. We had a total of 16 participants in each study site. We conducted the interviews in pairs of two, where one person was the moderator while the other acted as observer and note taker. Apart from taking notes, the second co-researcher also took photographs during the interview, and dealt with any issues that might interfere with the interview process.

We provided each study participant with a diary for them to note daily activities. The moderator would then go through the participant’s diary in subsequent visits before beginning the interview. This provided the chance to formulate probing questions and offered a foundation on which to build stories. During the study, we completed six visits to each participant. Each round of visits took one week, with the week after used to write reflective notes. After completing each interview we would meet as co-researchers discuss the most recent interview, and any thoughts or reflections would be incorporated into the notes in our own diaries and used to improve our approach for the next interview.

This data collection approach required patience, flexibility, trust, critical thinking, communication skills, listening skills, observation skills, qualitative skills, interpersonal and intrapersonal skills, in order to capture the thoughts and experiences of the participants on different visits. We had team meetings, debriefing sessions/clinics and reflective meetings where we learned these skills. For instance, we learned non-verbal communication skills including noting facial expressions, interpreting when the respondent is tired, and when he is not comfortable with the topic, among many other useful qualitative skills. We also learned the importance of understanding research context, content and how to interact with different people, while respecting the thoughts, feelings, culture and behaviors.

We used our diaries to record our findings and feelings after interviews, including what we observed in the interview, lessons, challenges, mitigation measures to challenges, learning/training needs and questions for the next visit. At the end of the week, we attended weekly debrief clinics and bi-weekly reflection meetings, giving us an opportunity for cross-sharing and cross-learning with other co-researchers and researchers. We got the opportunity to meet with ARISE partners during the reflection meetings, who enhanced our skills. Researchers organized a therapy session with a professional counselor to help us with our emotional and mental wellbeing. The ARISE project is among the first projects where we have had access to a counselor.

As co-researchers residing in the community, we learned that there are myriad difficulties people experience. They do not think they have the right to hold anyone accountable for a lack of access to the resources and services they need. And they often lack trust in the actors linked to these issues in the community. From our cross-learning, we realised that some participants exaggerated their vulnerabilities in the hope of gaining support of any kind. Some would ask for handouts in addition to the reimbursements we had made to them. In such cases, we explained the importance of research and re-consented. Many study participants lacked information and some had misinformation on different governance aspects. This was a major hindrance to the communities’ quest for better service delivery, as most of the structures in the community are informal.

Through field experiences, co-learning and co-sharing, we learned to adjust our language so that it would not

affect our positionality. With every group, we learned to be specific and selective with the language we used in each situation. So the language we used when engaging with older persons was different from the one we used with child-headed groups. Similarly, language for better educated and less educated differed and sometimes language for different gender groups also differed. We learned the act of community entry through the gatekeepers as we engaged them in the study at the initial phases and the importance of community solutions being suggested by the community.

Teamwork and continuous learning was the main propeller for fieldwork. Having a partner to work with and the support from the team leader as well as the researchers created an enabling environment.  Learning from our mistakes as well as from other team members was also helpful. We were the students of our own mistakes during the exercise, not allowing ourselves to repeat a mistake. Some of these lessons included failures due to poor timing and lack of a planned schedule. Here we learned that different respondents had different

preferences for interview timing. From that we scheduled our interviews based on the respondent’s availability, leading to efficiency from both ends.

We encountered a few challenges which we overcame by understanding their root cause. For instance, we managed to identify participants who were more difficult to pin down and decided prioritise them at the beginning of the week. That way, by the end of the week we would have managed to have our discussions. At the daycare we learned that lunch hours were best, as when the children were asleep the daycare owner was not occupied.

Some participants did not also understand the questions and needed you to create incidents and scenarios to understand and we did whatever suited them best. There were also too many expectations from the respondents at the initiation of the exercise, however, after clarification in the different visits, the respondents understood the project better and we had more realistic expectations. In some instances, respondents traveled out of the enumeration area and we had to be flexible and creative. Another challenge was the uptake of diaries

by the respondents. Some of them reported that they had lost their diaries whereas some complained that their siblings had misplaced their diary. Others had just forgotten to note their daily activities. To address this, we resolved to two measures; giving the respondents calls to remind them to note their daily activities in the diary and during our weekly visit we made copies of notes in order to store them safely.

Contrary to our assumption that we all face similar challenges in accessing basic services in this community, during this study we realized that we were wrong. Through the study we realised that private service providers, who have come in to bridge the gap in cases inadequate public amenities, are driven by the desire to make profits thereby making such services unaffordable to the marginalized/ vulnerable groups in the community. We are recommending the research organizations engage with the community, government and other stakeholders and come up with some sustainable programs to empower these marginalized groups and by

extension uplift the whole community.

This ARISE study has been a training and learning experience for us. It has enhanced our skills and experience in qualitative data collection, as well as enabling us to improve on such skills as writing, critical thinking, analysis, listening, interpersonal and timekeeping skills. Having been exposed to several styles of qualitative data collection, we would love to learn other qualitative data collection techniques in the future. Above all, we learnt about the different governance aspects of our communities, and we can always be consulted in the community.