This week we published a paper on the experience of conducting fieldwork in the public health field in the Journal of Health Promotion.  Fieldwork is usually a crucial part of PhD research, not only in the health field. However, few researchers write about this, often challenging, process. This paper highlights various occasions where fieldwork in the area of public health, health promotion or community health was more difficult than expected or did not go as planned. Our reflections on working in the field are aimed at less experienced researchers to support them in their research development. Moreover, this paper is also calling upon health researchers to share more details about the process of doing fieldwork and its trials and tribulations. Our key advice is to be inquisitive and open-minded around fieldwork, followed by: be prepared for your fieldwork, conduct a risk assessment of what might go wrong, and consider your resources and options to overcome such trials and tribulations. Fieldwork can be unpredictable. We believe it is important to share practical lessons from the field which helps other to better understand these tribulations, and learn from them. Finally, sharing such information may guide new researchers and help them identify strategies that can address those issues and challenges in their future studies.
Dr. Preeti Mahato (at Royal Holloway, University of London), Dr Bibha Simkhada and Prof. Padam Simkhada (both based at the University of Huddersfield) are all BU Visiting Faculty. Moreover, I have had the pleasure of acting as PhD supervisor for five of my co-authors. I have included in this blog what is probably my favourite fieldwork photo taken a decade ago by former BU PhD student Dr. Sheetal Sharma.
Prof. Edwin van Teijlingen
CMMPH (Centre for Midwifery, Maternal & Perinatal Health)
- Mahato, P., Tamang, P., Simkhada, B., Wasti, S. P., Devkota, B., Simkhada, P., van Teijlingen, E.R. (2022) Reflections on health promotion fieldwork in Nepal: Trials and tribulations. Journal of Health Promotion 10(1): 5–12. https://doi.org/10.3126/jhp.v10i1.50978
Hardly ever does a research trip go smoothly and completely to plan. Our latest trip to Nepal was no different. It started really with a delay, I had the money for a flight in the spring, but I really could not find the time to leave Bournemouth University for a three-week trip.
The first little hiccup of this summer’s fieldwork trip, during the monsoon, occurred on arrival at Kathmandu Airport on 23 July. I normally bring three bottles of whisky as a present for my PhD former students and fellow researchers in Nepal. These are bought during my stop-over in the Middle East and this always worked well until this year. This time I was stopped on arrival by a very apologetic customs officer who informed me that the rules for bringing alcohol into Nepal had changed since the beginning of this year and that I could only bring in one bottle. I received a lovely certificate for the two bottles I had to leave behind (see photo).
The second little hiccup was that one of the three research dissemination meetings we had hoped to organise in Kathmandu could not take place. Unfortunately, the organisation we had been collaborating with had not managed to finalise the research report on time. We had also hoped to meet up with staff at Social Science Baha. We have submitted the final draft manuscript for our next book to them and wanted to discuss progress, but the director was unfortunately out of the country.
Further little hiccups were more mundane, such as the electricity going off twice (for perhaps five minutes each time) during one of my teaching sessions on Introduction to Qualitative Research. This meant trying to start a slow laptop as back-up, whilst restarting a still warm overhead projector, etc. But the Nepali audience, being used this, took it all in its stride. And I’ll spare you the details of my day of diarrhoea (either weather or food-hygiene related, probably both).
The biggest problem this time was much more unexpected. Two days ago there was a big fire not too far from in Kathmandu (see picture taken from my bed room). A little later after the photo was taken, we got stuck in traffic because several roads were blocked around the burning building on our way to Tribhuvan University. Later I found out that the fire had destroyed the head office of a national internet provider, which is also the provider for the charity Green Tara Nepal, which we are working with. So I have had hardly any internet for a few days which is really difficult for a 21st century academic.
However, this fieldwork trip has been very successful to date. We have co-organised two well attended meetings, one on the introduction of CPD in Nursing led by Dr. Bibha Simkhada (see previous BU blog here) and one Consultation meeting on migration and health research led by Dr. Pramod Regmi, both run in collaboration with BU’s Visiting Professor Padam Simkhada. Moreover, I was invited to speak at an international sociology conference last Sunday here in Kathmandu which I did not even know was going on till two days before. I had to pleasure of meeting our midwifery friends in Nepal as well as a representative of the German Aid Agency GIZ. We managed to have dinner in Kathmandu with loads of colleagues and friends who work with BU in one form or another, including one of my recent co-authors from the University of Tokyo who happened to be in Nepal.
Prof. Edwin van Teijlingen
BU’s Fair Access Research project concentrates on the idea of learning and working together to transform higher education. We are interested in how widening participation works differently in different institutions.
With this in mind, Maggie Hutchings and Alex Wardrop have been doing some fieldwork with colleagues in the north of England.
Widening participation is emerging as emotional work. It is an emotional labour which sees personal stories intersect with and sometimes rub up against complex economic and political landscapes.
You can join us in this collective reflection and learning exercise by contributing to our survey. For more information about the organisational learning project, email Maggie on firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information about BU’s innovative Fair Access Research, email the Principal Investigators, Dr Vanessa Heaslip (email@example.com) and Dr Clive Hunt (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Bournemouth University, as all good universities, has an in-depth risk assessment form for staff to complete prior to their travel on university business. The form is required for all travel even it is on the train to Southampton for a research meeting. Before I left for Nepal late last year I completed the form, assessed the usual travel risk to a low-income country, including the risk food poisoning, malaria and car accidents. The latter is usually the most serious risk for a healthy educated academic traveller to a low-income country.
I have been to Nepal nearly twenty times, I have in many a house of office with low ceilings and low door frames, so why did I not duck deep enough this morning in the training centre we use for running our THET project. To add to my shame it was not even the first day in this training centre as we were here all day yesterday. The good thing is (as a sociologist) I got to do some in promptu participant observation in the local A&E in the health centre in Parasi. Not that I can use it in my research as I didn’t apply for ethical approval for this unique additional part of the fieldwork.
For the record, the A&E service in Parasi is excellent, but it helps, of course, that we are doing training with the support of the District Health Office and we were only two minutes driving away from the health post. The other good thing is that it hurts a little, but no damage done! ethical approval for this part of the fieldwork. The other good thing is that it hurts a little, but no damage done!
Finally, I would like to say “Thank you!” to the ANMs (Auxiliary Nurse Midwives) who pick up off the floor and my Nepali colleagues for worrying about me.
Professor Edwin van Teijlingen