|Community Assessment of Natural Food Sources of Vitamin A, Guidelines for an Ethnographic Protocol (International Nutrition Foundation for Developing Countries - INFDC, 1997, 141 pages)|
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
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.