Live the data - Proposing new method of research in development

A research is an exploration of truth. It primarily needs two things
  1. Understanding of the context.
  2. Ability to analyze - prove, disprove; make connections with existing knowledge and derive insights and wisdom.
People who are suffering with the problem have a very good understanding of the context but mostly they don't have the need to analyze it critically and derive insights. The researcher on the other hand has the second ability and the motivation/need to derive the insights but doesn't have the complete understanding of the context. To complement this, surveys are administered, people are asked about their feelings, reasons for their actions and so on.

Since people don't have the motivation and need to analyze and derive wisdom why not researchers do the first - experience the problem to understand the context. One can get better insights this way, within a short period of time.

Let us take the 'scarcity hypothesis' for example. We recently realized that the phenomenon of scarcity is a mental taxation to mind and affects the decision making of mind and so the poor. Why did it take so much time for us to realize this? This is a pretty obvious thing but just that no one experiencing this had the need to look at this from this perspective. If some of the economists lived like a real poor person for one or two years, this would have been realized long back and may be many other insights along with it. Another example is the recent experiment where people were asked about discounts and whether they would go to a far off place to buy. People in Africa replied differently and on questioning, shared that they are uncertain about the availability by the time they reach. These kinds of insights would have been easily got had people lived the data or at least imagined being in those shoes!

What would this form of research require? It requires the researcher to actually be in a situation like that of the subjects which he/she likes to investigate. This has two direct benefits.

  1. Living like a poor person gives a comprehensive picture about poverty. Currently, the aspects of poverty are typically studied in silos; education, health, access to credit etc. From a poor man's perspective, any decision is a net result of all these factors. Hence, it is important to understand the dynamics between these interdependencies and the relative priorities.
  2. This gives a better understanding of the underlying mechanisms. Most results of research tend to say the positive, negative or no impact of policies; which is just a datum. Actually experiencing the problem will give rich insights into the 'why's of these.

If you want to know the taste of a sweet; instead of sampling people, surveying them about the taste and doing sophisticated econometric and statistical analyses to correct for all sorts of biases and errors, just go and taste the sweet! It is much quick, easier and gives rich insights! I call this 'Live the data'!

Like any other approach, this also has its own concerns

  1. Time taking: From a researcher point of view, who is handling multiple projects at the same time, this may seem a time consuming process, spending their crucial time on single project, most often without resources to carry out other stuff. But, it is worth doing. One may be doing only one project at a time in this form of research but it has the potential to reach far reaching conclusions within short span of time as compared to the status-quo where one has to wait till long to be able to come to a consensus or realization.
  2. Not every situation can be replicated to be experienced: The real life research isn't as simplistic as this and it may not be possible to do this in all cases but wherever possible, this has the potential to give deep and rich insights.  In some cases, this 'live the data' experience can complement the current form of research.

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