Wednesday, January 03, 2007


Nepal Research Project - Refining the Methodology

Photo: Lobby of the Hotel Tibet in Kathmandu

FYI - You can find photos from my trip to Nepal at:

3 January 2007

We did three interviews yesterday. It was the first time that we were able to test our methodology to see if it worked. (The preliminary methodology is discussed in detail in a recent Geography for Travelers podcast, though I will also get into those details again here.) The night before I was telling Kevin that there were two concerns that I had about the methodology. The first was that because the two techniques were based on standard methods used by other researchers in the past, it was not really focused on environmental and social change, and as such the results we get may be unrelated to our research problem. The photographs we collected were historical in nature (both old and new), but that alone might not be enough to get people to naturally talk about changes over time. The only way we can know if this is the case is to test the methodology.

My second concern was related to time and the number of photographs that were being used. We had scanned 74 photographs originally, and had selected 40 of these for use. Kevin had some concern on the degree to which we could get the Sherpas and other Nepalis to open up and express their views and opinions. Nepalis overall tend to be somewhat reserved and hospitable. Language might also be an issue.
Our first test subject was a young Sherpa woman who is also a trekking guide and an occasional mountaineering instructor. She was born and raised in Lukla, the gateway to the Khumbu region and the town that we will fly into to begin our hike up to Namche Bazaar (the unofficial capital city of the Sherpas.)
Kevin and I had developed a protocol that described, step-by-step what we would say and do in the interview. After a couple of questions about her background, we had her look through the 40 photos and then group them into piles based on categories of her choice. She created nine piles, including: Making food, Crossing rivers, Animals, Entertainment and recreation, Mountains, Culture, Villages, People working, Education. This took quite a long time (over 20 minutes, I think). Then, according to our protocol, we had her describe the groups she had created. This was intended to be an open-ended discussion. However, there was limited discussion beyond the brief descriptions that were given.

I then took the photographs, shuffled them, and gave them back to our respondent, asking her to place them into three piles: (1) those that show the best of the Khumbu, (2) those that show the worst, and (3) those that are in between. She selected 21 photographs for the best and six photographs that showed the worst. We then asked her to tell us why she selected the photographs in the best and worst piles. Her responses were fairly simple descriptions: Mountains and climbing, Education, Culture, Animals, Television, Tourism and hotels, and Old homes. She further elaborated on these with some prompting.

After the first run we discussed how it went and how we could make it better. The discussion included our respondent and the film maker, who had decided not to videotape this session. First, we felt that there were too many photos, which seemed to have made the first task very long to complete. To remedy this, we started by looking at the one group in which our respondent had placed the most photos. This was the village group, which had nine photos – about a quarter of our photos. We discussed the photos in that group and removed three that seemed applicative. We then looked at all of the photos and removed one more that seemed applicative. This brought us down to 36 photos, which was closer to the numbers used in precious studies.
The second issue was how to obtain responses that were more closely related to our research questions. We decided to add certain questions at key points in the protocol. These included: (1) specific questions about the respondent’s background and familiarity with the Khumbu, (2) asking how the topic for each group of photos has changed since the person first came to know the Khumbu (which would be as a child for most), and which changes were good and which were bad, and (3) asking how the best and worst features have changed over time. This third question was optionally and would only be included to encourage additional discussions, if necessary.

We used these changes in the second and third interviews that did today, and we appeared to have great success. The additional questions clearly focused the discussion on our research topic, and the respondents went on at great length about the topics that were discussed. Part of the success, however, probably had to do with the age and experience of the other respondents, both of whom were males and around 50 years old. Despite that, I do not think we will need to make further adjustments to the methodology.
The next big issue will be applying this methodology to a translation situation – where the respondent does not speak English. We will not be facing that situation until we we fly to Lukla on January 5th. At breakfast this morning we heard that all flights out of Kathmandu were canceled yesterday due to the fog in the morning. Apparently flights do not go out in the afternoon due to strong convections (rising air) that can make flying dangerous. I wonder how this might affect our plans?


In preparation for our journey into the Khumbu, we stopped by a pharmacy and bought: Amoxycillin (20 x 500mg) and Erythromycin (20 x 250mg) antibiotics, Diamox [Acetazolamide] (17 x 250mg) for high altitude sickness, Tinidazole Antriprotozal (6 x 1000mg and 30 x 500mg) for diarrhea, and about 175 cough drops. At Kevin’s suggestion, I had earlier bought two rolls of toilet paper, a package of 20 wet wipes, two packets of oral rehydration salts, multiple vitamins (which I forgot to bring from home) and a Sancho (a Nepalis version of the Chinese White Flower Embrocation, or Tiger Balm Oil). Before I left the US, I had also bought (based on an email that Kevin forwarded to me): blister treatment pads, water purification tablets, immodium (for diarrhea) and sunscreen. Am I a bit concerned about getting sick? If I was not before, I am now.

(4 January addendum - I woke up with a sore throat this morning -- big bummer!)


For lunch yesterday we went to a pastry shop near our hotel and had curry puffs and cookies. For dinner we went to the Third Eye Restaurant in the Thamel district. It was the best Indian restaurant that I have ever been to, although we did have to sit on a raised flat platform – no easy on my hips, and the Eric Clapton CD they played got quite loud at times.

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