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close this bookCommunity Assessment of Natural Food Sources of Vitamin A, Guidelines for an Ethnographic Protocol (International Nutrition Foundation for Developing Countries - INFDC, 1997, 141 pages)
close this folderPart two: Managing the project
close this folderIV. How to
View the documentA. Select key-informants and conduct key-informant interviews
Open this folder and view contentsB. Conduct a free list of foods
View the documentC. Select key foods
Open this folder and view contentsD. Identify food plant and animal species
View the documentE. Determine nutrient content of food
View the documentF. Select the sample of mother-respondents
View the documentG. Manage the data

A. Select key-informants and conduct key-informant interviews

Selecting Key-Informants

The team leader/manager should work with six to eight key-informants. The most appropriate key-informants for addressing issues related to consumption of vitamin A-rich foods and beliefs about vitamin A deficiency are:

· Mothers of preschool-aged children, or mothers who have raised a number of children within the community.
· Other primary caretakers, such as grandmothers or older siblings who play a key role in the care of the children under six years of age and living in households in the community.
· Fathers of preschool-aged children in the community.
· The local outsider health professional, agricultural extension worker, or vendor, who is knowledgeable about the topics under review.
· Traditional health practitioners.

Depending upon the ethnic variation within the community, it may be important to choose key-informants from different ethnic backgrounds.

A way to identify appropriate key-informants is to ask either local community leaders or government officials with whom you meet during your initial introduction to the community, about people living in the area who may be good sources of information. For example, you may ask, "Do you know of any mothers who are active in the community and who would be willing to talk to me at length about food beliefs and household consumption?" If there is a local health clinic, you may find that the health personnel can help you select mothers who are active within the community and would be available to participate in the research.

Once you have chosen two or three key-informants who are mothers in the community, they can assist in the selection of other community members who fit the criteria listed above and who have appropriate characteristics for interviewing. When individuals are identified, you will need to test their willingness to talk and their ability to respond to questions concerning the topic. You may begin by asking them very broad questions about food within the community. For example, you may say, "How would you describe the standard diet in the area?" Short, terse answers, such as "We only eat millet," and an unwillingness to elaborate when prodded, may indicate a resistance to discuss subjects with strangers to any great length.

It is important to work with key-informants who are nonjudgmental and sensitive to differences within the community. In other words, you need to identify individuals who are highly aware of what goes on in the community and interact with a range of community members from different backgrounds. When choosing key-informants, keep in mind that these individuals are representing the perspective of the general community on food use.

Procedures for Key-Informant Interviewing: Principles of Open-Ended Interviews

Key-informant interviews will be conducted throughout the duration of the research design and data will be collected in the form of written field notes. The interviewer should record as much as possible during the key-informant interviews, in the informant's exact or near-exact words. Words, phrases and whole sentences should be written down as they were stated.

Note taking is an important element in the interview process. Remember that you are looking for vocabulary and local terms that may allow you to capture important insights into the local culture and belief system. When such terms are mentioned, insure that you have an accurate understanding by probing for specific examples or illustrations. You may say, "What do you mean by ?" or "Could you give me an example of where is found in this community?"

Often interviewers find that taking good notes requires time, leading to brief pauses while the interview is being conducted. While the notes are being recorded, the interviewer may feel that these short interruptions cause some discomfort for both the interviewer and the key-informant. If this occurs, explain once again to the informant that what they have said is important and in order to capture the information you need to write it down in its entirety. It is also important to remember that as the interviewers and the key-informants become more familiar with one another, these short periods of silence will become less noticeable. Furthermore, with time the interviewer will become more adept at note-taking. Always keep in mind that when trying to capture the local belief system and gathering data on health and nutrition concepts (see emic in Glossary, Appendix 13) that it is critical to get information in the words of the key-informants.

During the interview you may also find the body language or the hand motions of the key-informant to be significant. If this is the case, record observations that you have identified as important.

You may find that the information you gather from the key-informants may vary according to the location and the timing of the interview. For instance, when talking about food, it may be useful to carry out interviews with the key-informants in settings where the foods are purchased or gathered, such as in the market or during a visit to the local garden. Another possibility is visiting other women in their compounds with the key-informant. Conducting the interview while the informant is preparing a meal may also enable the interviewer to elicit different and pertinent information. As you become more familiar with your informants and the activities in which they are involved, explore the possibility of conducting the interview in different settings that may enhance the interview or allow you to expand upon the information gathered.

Key-informants should also be consulted for the testing of protocols used with the mother-respondents noted in section II-C-6. Discussing the procedures and conducting exercises with the informants will help the researcher determine what revisions and modifications need to be made so that the research instrument is appropriate for the community under study. You may want to choose two or three of your best informants to test the research procedures. Once you have administered the exercises ask for advice on how to modify the procedures so that they are appropriate for the local audience. Get suggestions about specific terms or phrases and whether there are ways to make the questions more clear.