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Cindy Banyai on Social research and evaluation in an Asian context

Cindy Banyai of the Refocus Institute, a consultancy specializing in participatory evaluation using visual methods, and graduate of Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University, here to discuss my experience working and researching in Asia. This post was inspired by the AEA365 post from Efrain Gutierrez on interviews with Latinos. Efrain’s perspective on cross-cultural data gathering resonated with me and I wanted to share how I think it relates to social research and evaluation in Asia.

Lesson Learned – Relationships matter and it takes time to build them. The Chinese call it guanxi, but I found it to be important all over Asia. Don’t expect to be able to get a straight or in-depth answer from someone you just met. Use informal interviewing techniques and snowball sampling after being introduced to key informants through a trusted acquaintance. Allow ample time for relationship building for in-depth interviews and recognize the potential shallowness of one-off interviews and surveys.

Lesson Learned – There is a strong deference to authority in Asia. This is particularly true if the country has a Communist government or history. In my experience, this leads interview respondents to the answers they think you are looking for, wreaking havoc on data gathered from multiple choice surveys. People may be uncomfortable and take a long time with open-ended questions, but the data will be less biased by this factor.

Lesson Learned – Asia has a love/hate relationship with the West. I’ve experienced exuberance, resentment, curiosity and downright hostility to my work and presence in Asia. In developing countries I was often seen as someone who could provide aid, causing interviewees to paint an overly sunny picture of the situation. While in Japan, Westerners are treated respectfully but find themselves perpetually outside of the system, making it extremely difficult to peer through the veneer. The best advice I have in this regard is to understand the context in which you are working and consider it in your approaches to data-gathering and analysis.

Rad Resource – This is most definitely not an exhaustive list of the lessons I’ve learned during my 8 year Asian tenure, but they are some basic constructs relevant to gathering quality data in social research and evaluation. If you’re interested in reading about my experience in the Philippines, where I employed extensive relationship-building and informal interviewing techniques, check out my book Community Capacity and Development.

Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

3 thoughts on “Cindy Banyai on Social research and evaluation in an Asian context”

  1. Excellent point: “understand the context in which you are working.” For those looking for additional material or tools to assist (focusing on the qualitative but with a qualitative/quantitative mixture in mind) take a look at:

    Fetterman, D.M. (2010). Ethnography: Step by Step. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

    Keep up the good work!

    – David

  2. Efrain Gutierrez

    Hi Cindy,

    You made my day! Cultural competency is critical in the field of evaluation and it makes me very happy to see how my work is inspiring other evaluators to talk about their culture.

    Thank you so much for mentioning me in your post and for the valuable lessons you shared with us! Many of them, as you said in your comment to my blog post, apply to Mexican culture.



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