Understanding research respondents: My bitter experience with a boater

By Sandhya Pradhan

With full of excitement and energy, we headed towards the ‘heart city/lake city’ of Nepal: Pokhara. Breathtaking view of Phewa Lake and getting chance to breath in fresh air away from the pollution of Kathmandu got me more recharged. Walking down the Lakeside and mesmerizing view filled me with more encouragement to do my field survey. I headed towards the Lakeside approaching a boater but as soon as I talked to him, all my encouragement and confidence dipped. It felt something like boat sinking deeper into the lake. It was not even half a minute that I started talking to him. His reaction gave me goosebumps. In that bright sunny day his reaction made to feel like lying on the ground and counting the stars.

When I approached the boater requesting him to participate for my survey, his immediate response upon my request was as such: “अरुको दु:खको बारेमा लेखेर, दुनियाँलाई देखाएर अनि हजुरहरुले नम्बर पाउनुहुन्छ । हाम्रो दु:ख किन दुनियाँलाई देखाउने?” (“You get marks by showing our misery to the world. Why should we show our misery to the entire world?”)

Reflecting upon what we are currently studying in Development Communications course for our Bachelor in Development Studies (BDevS) degree, I felt that there was lack in understanding the audience on my part, thus creating a barrier to audience engagement. Perhaps be the respondent (boater) was not an interested respondent for my survey. And if there was another interested respondent, may be there would be more friendly behaviour who would be responsive to our queries?  I kept wondering about this. Since the respondent was busy in his daily routine trying to earn some money to feed his family, sparing some of his precious time to talk to me could have resulted him in losing some of the customers. Not getting a customer for him is not earning. So money could have also been an important factor for the boater’s disinterest.

Knowingly or unknowingly, I applied the modernization paradigm of development communications of using my authority, power and privilege, applying top-down vertical communication approach. One of the assumptions of the modernization paradigm is the influence of audience at the technocratic level – in my case the respondent to be inquisitive, guided by faith in the scientific method and rooted in the principles of enlightenment.  My assumption clearly did not work as the respondent (boater) wasn’t interested or curious at all about what I was asking or the outcome of the survey.

That day, I learnt a lot about audience engagement, demand and supply of research.

About the Author

Sandhya Pradhan NepalcommsWith so much to experience and so less to express, Sandhya is an enthusiast who believes in honest expression of emotions. Sandhya Pradhan is currently doing her Bachelor in Development studies from National College. She has a great volunteerism sprit and has worked as a volunteer in many organizations. She is someone who is fond of exploring new things. She is an environmental enthusiast, looking forward to work in the environment sector.

Cover Photo Credit : pokharacity.com

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