|Boiling Point No. 42 - Household Energy and the Environment (ITDG, 1999, 44 p.)|
Val Rea, Development Education Consultant, c/o Intermediate Technology, Schumacher Centre for Technology and Development, Bourton Hall, Bourton-on-Dunsmore, Warwickshire CV23 9QZ, UK
In the spring of 1998 the Boiling Point team decided that they needed evidence from you, the reader, about how you use BP and how valuable it is to you and the people with whom you work. It is important to have this information so that the team can be sure that BP is doing a good job, so that it can be improved and so that there is evidence to let donors know that they are funding something worthwhile.
As a consultant, and one-time education officer for ITDG, I was asked to ensure that the assessment review was done properly and to document all the things that we discovered. Mindful of the costs involved, we decided to contact just 100 of the 1200 subscribers with a questionnaire. Many of this 100 readers had been receiving BP for several years and had also contacted Boiling Point already in various ways, so we knew we had a good chance of getting back the information we needed. Furthermore, the 100 were chosen to represent a good geographical spread and a wide variety of organizations and occupations (1). This was therefore what is called a purposive sample that enabled us to satisfy the specific needs of this project (2). The danger with such a sample is, of course, that it can make the results look better than they really are.
The questionnaires were sent out in July and by September we had had an excellent response of 35 replies. The questionnaire itself included boxes, with answers one could tick, as well as space for longer answers. It addressed the three key research questions:
· How do readers use the information in BP?
· What impact does BP have on its readers?
· What impact does BP have on communities living in the developing world - our target group?
How do readers use the information in BP?
The overwhelming impression we gained from reading the returned questionnaires was how highly you, the reader, value BP. There were no negative responses: many readers made helpful comments (such as requesting translations) and constructive suggestions for future articles.
It is not surprising, therefore, to find that no-one throws Boiling Point away: most of you keep all back copies, or at least some of them. Many copies are read by a large number of people (we estimate 9-14 per copy) but as one reader from El Salvador remarks, 'It is very hard for me to lend a copy because of the risk of losing it is high. Sometimes I have lent copies to colleagues. No more!'
Readers come from a range of organizations, from governments, NGOs, research and education to individual consultants and enthusiasts. They work with a wide range of people from policy makers and training institutions to local community groups and artisans. All value BP as a source of technical information:
'The artisans and technicians pay particular attention to the photographs and details of drawings' (reader from the Central Institute of Agricultural Engineering, India).
'New knowledge in our R&D activities' (doctor from an Institute of Fuel Research and Development. Bangladesh).
Most readers also value BP as a source of social and economic information, as a way of keeping up-to-date with energy issues and of networking with others in the field:
'It informs us about a lot going on in the same field [with] up to date information [from] other countries' (Solar Network of Tanzania).
'Up to date information at international level suggests ways and means of overcoming the stumbling blocks in the field' (reader from the Gandhi Niketan Ashram, India).
Boiling Point is frequently used for training and workshops for fieldworkers and producers:
'It helps to educate rural women to use simple techniques to save the environment' (reader who works with the GIA/NABIO Agroforestry Development Organisation).
Policy makers are a very important audience for BP's messages, and it was encouraging to find out that a number of readers consider that is has a role in the education of decision makers:
'BP can contribute to solving problems by sensitising experts and policy makers through its publications', (a reader who works with the Ministry of Agriculture, Ethiopia).
'There is a great need to turn the minds of the ordinary politician to know, realise and legislate against hewing down of trees [and consider] fuel efficient stoves. These two find common ground of redress and prompted action in some of the articles that appear in Boiling Point (reader from the Ministry of Transport and Energy, Zimbabwe).
What impact does BP have on its readers?
Asked to judge how useful BP is to their work, the overwhelming majority of readers replied that it is very or quite useful. It is readers in the South who most often find it 'very' useful. This is not perhaps a surprising finding, but it is a very important perspective on the value of the journal. As a reader and contributor to BP from China puts it, 'We need it indeed'.
It is extremely difficult to attribute an impact to one particular source of information. As one reply from Chile observes, 'BP is not our only source, so our work is a result of many contributions, besides BP'...however, some examples sent to us were quite explicit in attributing impact to specific issues of BP.
What impact does BP have on the target group?
This is by far the most difficult question, and the one with which we have made least progress so far. When we were deciding on the research strategy, we decided we would send several follow-up letters to seek further information on impact in the form of case studies. We were delighted to receive responses from several readers, and their case studies will be featured next issue. This is valuable evidence and we would like a lot more of it!
It is very difficult to decide what are the most important parts of BP unless you tell us what you really want. However, if you write to us with information about how you have used BP and how it has helped the people you work with, it would help us a great deal, and we would be most grateful. Because we only wrote to 100 readers we have missed valuable information and we would certainly like to receive it, whether you were included in the original sample or not. If you would prefer to reply by filling in a copy of the original questionnaire, please write to the editor and you will receive a copy. In the next edition of BP we intend to publish several case studies, (some of which we have already received). They may also be put into a booklet to accompany our Impact Assessment Report, which will soon be published (3).
Impact assessment is something that the team will continue to do, in order to keep the journal useful for you, the reader. However, in the report that concluded the first stage; these important observations were made:
As far as this purposive sample is concerned, BP is, without a doubt, doing the right things. It will continue to be effective if you, the readers, and the editor keep in contact with each other. If you feel that BP is not covering all the types of material which we should, please contact the editor who will try to include them where appropriate. Some of the requests from those who were contacted are shown in Box 1. If you know about any of these topics, or would like to make further suggestions, please consider writing an article and passing on your expertise.
The high level of satisfaction shown by the questionnaire illustrates that BP seems to be doing things right. The only question here is how far a translation service into other languages would add to the journal's efficiency in communicating its message to other readers who might like to receive it.
1 Judge, E. Research Assistant, Information Services Unit, ITDG, carried out initial selection
2 Robson, C. (1993) Real World Research, Blackwell, Oxford
3 Rea, V. Boiling Point Review: towards an impact assessment. ITDG Rugby 1999
· Addresses of free resource materials and other support
· Articles which improve the technical aspect without dismantling the local culture and traditions
· Book reviews, information about discussion forums, web pages etc.
· Follow up of projects from ~5 years; what happened after, and why?
· Fuel and environment
· Funding possibilities
· How to build a chimney through or around a thatched roof
· Articles presented in very simple format and language use
· Inbuilt cooking stoves with chimneys
· Innovations in industrial countries
· Kerosene, LPG and natural gas stoves
· Means for household energy demand in arid lands
· Projects for funding
· Renewable Energy Technologies in Africa
· Rural electrification
· Rural/urban interdependence
· Simple technology in tree nurseries, growing and maintenance
· Socio-cultural constraints
· Solar energy for household water and other applications
· Stoves and the environment
· Successful programmes which have been introduced to a community, which has then gone on to solve outstanding problems
· Where to buy/or costs to make/briquetting press