[Guest blog post written by Tara Susman-Peña, Senior Research Officer for Internews]
We had an unexpected wrinkle with one of the survey questions, a wrinkle that brings to the surface some of the basic challenges that always underlie the process of doing surveys. The question was meant to gather some quick background information - a necessary quick preliminary step before moving on to the real heart of the survey - which assesses people’s information needs.
3. Country of origin/Wadanka__________________
(The transliteration is to Somali, and is what we are using for the current survey).
To me, the meaning of this question is completely straightforward. The question is asking: in what country was the interviewee born?
To the young enumerators, most born in Dadaab, Kenya to parents of Somali heritage, the question is equally as obvious, and means: What country is the family’s homeland (where are the parents/ancestors from?).
This survey was created and intended for use in the aftermath of the crisis; thus in most cases, it will be used with people who have recently been displaced. The question is meant to help determine the location of the interviewee’s original home. There is also a follow up question:
4. City/town of origin/Caasimada/Magaalada________________
This question is intended to pinpoint the town that the displaced person has come from, whether this was a different country or within the same country where the person ended up after the crisis. Unexpectedly, the enumerators interpreted it in the same way as they did the first question: as referring to the person's heritage. So, we had to add another question:
5. Born in__________________
This small misunderstanding raises all sorts of deep questions about identity and belonging. It also raises practical issues about how to interpret the results of a survey, and how comparable surveys are across different cultures and countries. The anthropological perspective assumes as given that people don’t all interpret questions the same way. However, surveys like ours that are intended to be done across borders and time can only be trusted if they make exactly the opposite assumption, that each interviewee understands each question in the same way as everyone else who is taking the survey. And as the people who wrote the survey.
The Somali-Kenyan interpretation of “country of origin” makes one possible response to a question at the end of the survey all the more poignant. The question is:
If you were to leave here, where would you most likely go/Haday ahayd inaad baxdo, intee u badan inaad aaddo?
Interviewees are not told or shown the possible answers – they simply come up with an answer to the question and the interviewers code it appropriately. And some of the people who were born in the camps in Dadaab, Kenya have responded to this question by saying: