Field Research, Quantitative Socio-Economic and Regional Data Analysis

Session Report
Ronak Gupta

An online International Summer School Program on “Data, Monitoring and Evaluation” is a two-month immersive online hands-on certificate training course organised by IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi. The day 6 of the program on 8 July 2023 started with a session on “Field Research, Quantitative Socio-Economic and Regional Data Analysis” by Professor Gummadi Shridevi, School of Economics, University of Hyderabad, and visiting professor at IMPRI.

About the Data, Monitoring and Evaluation program.

The training program was conducted by an expert group of academicians which included 

  • Prof Nilanjan Banik, Professor and Program Director (BA, Economics and Finance) at Mahindra University, Hyderabad
  • Prof Mukul Asher, Former Professor, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore; Visiting Distinguished Professor at IMPRI 
  • Dr Soumyadip Chattopadhyay, Associate Professor, Economics, Visva-Bharati, Santiniketan; Visiting Senior Fellow at IMPRI. 

Other notable experts include 

  • Dr Devender Singh, Global Studies Programme, University of Freiburg, Germany; Visiting Senior Fellow, IMPRI 
  • Prof Gummadi Sridevi,Professor, School of Economics, University of Hyderabad; Visiting Professor, IMPRI 
  • Dr Amar Jesani,Independent Researcher and Teacher (Bioethics and Public Health); Editor, Indian Journal of Medical Ethics 
  • Dr Radhika Pandey,Senior Fellow, National Institute of Public Finance and Policy (NIPFP), New Delhi 
  • Prof Vibhuti Patel,Visiting Distinguished Professor, IMPRI
  • Dr Ismail Haque, Fellow, ICRIER and Visiting Fellow, at  IMPRI
  • Mr V. Ramakrishnan,Managing Director, Organisation Development, Singapore
  • Prof VinaVaswani,Director, Centre for Ethics, and Professor, Department of Forensic Medicine and Toxicology, Yenepoya (Deemed to be) University, Mangalore
  • Mr Rakesh Pandey, ​Assistant Policy Researcher, Doctoral Scholar, Pardee RAND Graduate School, RAND Corporation, USA 
  • Prof Nalin Bharti, Professor, Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Patna; Visiting Senior Fellow, IMPRI.

The Conveners for the course were Dr Simi Mehta, CEO & Editorial Director, IMPRI and Dr Arjun Kumar, Director at IMPRI.

Fiza Mahajan, a researcher at IMPRI, opened the event by introducing the distinguished panellists and welcoming the speakers and attendees to the program.

The session started off with primary data collection and how important ethics are. While introducing data collection she highlighted the issue of primary data collection, the kind of ethics the researcher is supposed to follow in the field, and why ethics becomes important and furthered the emphasis of journals on the ethicality of the data process.

Importance of Primary Data

Despite the existence of secondary-level data and ample studies, still, there is a scope for the existence of flaws and inaccuracies, which might impact the current purview of the research, as the research that an individual is carrying out has to be related to the particular topic or area of interest and should not deviate from focus. 

This primary data can be based on participatory observation, i.e. by just observing the market and trying to observe what exactly the various markets would be functioning for.Professor emphasised subjectivity over objectivity, and empirically analyse the whole process of data collection.The emphasis of field analysis is to talk more about qualitative approaches over quantitative approaches, i.e. the importance of means over ends. 

Field research design is used for primary data collection and ethnographic studies(which are usually taken up by sociologists w.r.t poverty, culture, and food habits; which are not generally taken by economists) silent or spectator approach also gives the researcher an edge over the qualitative approach.

Focus on Ethics when talking about Primary Data

Human objects are involved in the collection of data, be it science or social science, and that is when ethics comes in. Example of Stanford prison experiment wherein in 1971, wherein the aim of the research was on the ethicality of the experiment and to analyse if the experiment proves certain kinds of behaviour as well as those who are involved in that and, further studied the impact of becoming the prisoners and talked about the analysis of the Impacts after the experiment.

Another was the evidence published by historian Mosby of the experiment conducted by the Canadian govt on the nutritional values of indigenous children, to see the level of nutrition and malnutrition and ways to improve the loopholes; this had negative outcomes on some but was never discussed.

All these experiments highlight the importance of primary data collection and the need to follow ethics for the same. 

She also said that research is a gap, in the existing literature that fails to provide a solution to the concurrent question the researcher seeks to answer. The further professor took cognizance of her projects- food and nutritional security, the literature of which was skewed,

From 1830 onwards, we saw hunger and related deaths literature, but over the years new dimensions and facts emerged, like production, economic accessibility, and for poverty as well and its emerging dimensions

Choice of Topic for Research

While choosing a topic for research or simply a research question, the individual or the researcher should take cognizance of general issues like food security, hunger, poverty, climate change, and sometimes issues related to politics like illegal mining- gold mining, malnutrition, etc.

She further emphasises the need for objectivity while collecting and interpreting data and for analysis. For the same group, aspects will differ. For example- When an Indian fisherman is caught by Sri Lankan forces, which the Indian navy has to act on, based on ethics.

So when starting with data collection, we need to get into culture, ethnicity, and customary practices and norms of the particular region because there may be two different cultures, practices, etc. Giving an example of caste-based holding structure in a rural village of Telangana, the researcher needs to collect the data for caste, to analyse the land holdings of upper and lower caste landholdings, and even take care not to reveal the data to the general public, for security issues, for say the lower caste people

All about Field Research

It deals with the confidentiality of the data provider or simply the source of the data inseminated. And the emphasis on the safety of the field investigator and the subsequent recruitment, as it plays an important role in the revelation of data by the source. 

But in the course of the study, the researcher has to reveal the data, and at the same time it is important to keep in mind that the researcher does not reveal the names or some confidential information as here comes informed concern while collecting primary data; which is also known as the consent for using data and the way for using the data.

The session ended with an interactive Q&A session with the speaker.

Acknowledgement: Ronak Gupta is Research Intern at IMPRI.

Read more event reports of IMPRI here:

Spatial Data Analysis: Introduction to GIS and Visualisation

Introduction to Impact Evaluation Methods