Saturday, December 2, 2017

NIRDPR Diaries Part III : Day Two of Workshop on Research Methodology

In the previous two posts (NIRDPR Diaries Part I and Part II) I discussed my experience at NIRDPR and the lessons from the first day of the three day workshop on research methodology. In this post, I will elaborate on my lessons from the second day of the workshop. For those, who have not read the previous posts, I wish to provide a little background. I was at NIRDPR(National Institute of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj) to attend a conference on Health, Gender and Rural Development; as part of this conference was also a pre-conference workshop on "Approaches to Social Sciences Research". 

Day II of the workshop was engaging and very informative. The first session was by Dr. T. Vijaya Kumar who talked to us about the "Relevance of Policy Research". He talked about the importance of problem definition, agenda setting and gave example of "Mission Antyodaya" to support his assertions. From this session I understood that a good research has some (ought to have) policy implications because that way the work can find its relevance in the society and augur meaningful changes. But this is no news that policy implementation, formulation, evaluation and observation pose a huge challenge. I raised a question on difference between Law and Policy; I somehow had got confused between the two. He made an attempt to make some clarity but the void of explanation was filled by my fellow friends and mentors who explained to me during the tea break the difference in detail. A woman told me that law is something which citizens have to abide by and in case of any breach, there is punishment, whereas in the case of policy no such incumbency exists. This explanation definitely helped me gain some clarity. Actually, I was thinking from the point of view of Marital Rape when I asked the question to demystify the equation between law and policy. Nevertheless, the session was interactive, Dr. Kumar asked questions and we responded to the best of our knowledge. Later on, Dr. Kumar was to introduce me to a women team who were being trained at NIRDPR to improve the cleanliness in schools. I talked to these women and expressed how proud I was of them and their decision to work towards the improvement of health. It was important to let them know that they are not just a cog in this journey of ensuring healthier India. The grassroots workers are often under-appreciated, un-acknowledged and therefore, I always feel that it is important to remind them of the great responsibility they are shouldering and how it is impacting the bigger vision. 

The second session of the day was by Prof. K.N.M. Raju on "Framing Survey Questions and Coding the Data". This was my favorite session of the day because there was a lot of talk around mathematics, statistics and data analysis. He began with a simple question to understand the distinction between "rate and ratio" (I encourage the readers to pay attention to this question, it is really a doorway to a better understanding). He also asked why the infant mortality rate was called as 'rate' and not 'ratio', he further stressed that it should rather be called as a ratio. I tried to reason in his class and this is what I had said, "Sir, it is called rate because when extrapolated to the population of a country, we have to multiply the value of this rate with the population concerned". I believe that rate is the appropriate usage. I have, during the many events that I attend on health and its allied fields,  noticed about me that the nature of my arguments has improved, that I can reason now and actually think objectively on statements I hear in the realm of mathematics, public health or biostatistics (there is still a long way to go). I believe this is a very natural thing that happens when one is passionate about his/her area of interests, very liberating indeed. Prof. K.N.M.Raju stressed on the importance of theoretical understanding to plan the type of questions to be framed for a survey. I believe that all the experienced professors who addressed us, heavily emphasized on the indispensability of theoretical understanding before going to quantitative analysis. I also understand the logic behind such approach. A sound knowledge in theory leads to questions, doubts and potential topics of future research. Overall, he actually talked about the basic fundamentals of quantitative research, independent and dependent variables, etc. I indisputably enjoyed his session and if I have to sum up the nature of his session then I would say that, "Simple things are the most complex to understand". During his session he ensured that we put our minds to work, occasionally he used the whiteboard to make concepts clear. A humble man of erudition in his field, Prof. Raju. 

The next session was by Dr. Ramesh on "Case Study applications: How and what to report". The session reminded me of multiple books that I have come across which have followed the approach of case studies to elucidate the salient points. He mentioned, which I believe is an extremely significant point, that context is of paramount importance in case study based approach to dissemination of results or information. Well, this would seem a no-brainer but we often assume that our readers know background which we are using to prepare our work (calls for some self-assessment and introspection). Imagine coming across a book which suddenly talks about women and their rights without forming a background on why it is important to talk about it. Point taken sir, thank you. He told us about the village names which have been at the focus of some phenomenal work related to social development - Punsari, Anna Hazare's village (Ralegan Siddhi), Mednipur (Midnapore) village, to name a few. I still have to read about these three villages and understand why they are termed as "model villages". The best part of his session? He gave references of books to substantiate his point, the point of writing the best case studies : Everybody Loves a Good Drought, Looking Away, Bio-innovation and Poverty alleviation: Case studies from AsiaUnheard Voices.  I believe it is extremely significant to use reference of books when we address an audience, they must always go back with atleast five books to read and learn from; books, which I feel are the most companionable of companions. Somehow I feel that addition of a reading list adds to the credibility of the speaker and trust in his/her awareness with the topic about which he/she is talking about. Quintessentially, I thoroughly enjoyed this session. It was different than all the sessions which had happened and yet it was clearly noticeable how pertinent it was to the case of social sciences research or any research for that matter. Documentation is certainly an art and a good research work stands the danger of being termed "thoughtless"  if it is not properly documented. It was an intellectually rejuvenating session and I do not think I would have got any other better opportunity to learn the nuances of writing case studies and their relationship with research work than this one at NIRDPR. 

The final session of the day was by Dr. Sucharita Pujari, the linchpin of all activities during this six day research based extravangaza at NIRDPR. The topic was "Qualitative Research Methods". Dr. Pujari talked in detail about the role qualitative research plays in informing the ground realities of a situation at a particular location (by taking example of health programs), the way to conduct conversations with respondents and how to handle their skepticism and distrust. Since, most of the students in the workshop had experiences of field work, they felt very comfortable discussing their ideas and opinions with Dr. Pujari who brings with herself a litany of such experiences. She patiently answered the queries of students and the nods of agreement interspersed with light moments of laughter made the session an informative one without making it too much didactic or pedagogic in nature. I too believe in the utmost importance of qualitative research work but I also feel that that results of such work ought to be quantified(wherever possible) so that they are easier to understand and that way people can be made to understand the implications of the study. After the session, I asked Dr. Pujari about the significance of qualitative role in policy formulation. She enthusiastically stated that qualitative research has a tremendous role to play in policy formulation and remarked that the results of flawed policy making are testimony to the shoddy work done in relation to qualitative research. Intrigued, I ensured to read more about it. (Any suggestions are welcome.)

With this,  the second day of the workshop came to another beautiful end. After the sessions, I spent some time in the library trying to capture every book in the magnificent library at NIRDPR in the brief time I had. Soon it was 6pm and I rushed to badminton court to play with my new friends. 

NIRDPR is the kind of place where I feel everyone must spend some time of their lives. It is really imparting education in the sense which can be translated into real world and to address, if not solve, its challenges. Shefali, who is a student of PGDRDM (Post Graduate Diploma in Rural Development) often shares about her lessons from the class and how her perception has been broadened in a brief time at NIRDPR. When I talk to her, I can see how different my thinking is from her in multiple ways. While she talks from social point of view in relation to multiple problems, I often wonder if these issues need attention at all. It is like learning vicariously from the conversations I have with her. Thank you Shefali, you are patient in answering my queries. 

I would like to thank NIRDPR and IASSH (Indian Association for Social Sciences and Health) for organizing such an event and being mindful of the needs of budding scientists and researchers. I cannot admire this step enough, as much corny as it may sound, but I must not flinch from stating categorically that , those days from 12th November till 18th November 2017 are definitely etched in my memory and for long.

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