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by Phil Bartle, PhD

Training Handout

First you need to find out pre-entry information. 1

Before you first enter the community in a public situation (researcher or mobiliser), you need to know several things about the community. This page suggests various ways to obtain information.

It is a bit of a paradox that some times even asking questions can result in your breaking local prohibitions, but you need the answers to avoid breaking local prohibitions. By moving carefully, remembering that you have twice as many ears as mouths, you can map out what behaviour is acceptable, and take appropriate action. The following are a set of approaches you can adopt.

Try to meet people who are familiar with the community, first those who are living outside the community, later those who may be living there. These include teachers, church, temple or mosque leaders, regional or district governmental officials, extension (health, agriculture) agents who visit the community. Make notes.

Any of these might direct you to a person who has more intimate knowledge of the community and who can give you guidance about acceptable protocol for your finding out more. Before people get to learn that you will visit a community, conduct a quick informal survey to determine critical information that will affect your planning for entry to that community. Make notes.

Engage in casual conversations to discover critical factors affecting community co-operation and organising. Try to find out, in casual conversations and with a trusted informant, who the "hijacking politicians" are, those who will try to control things for their own benefit. Make notes.

When you meet persons that you feel would be good informants, ask them to point out similar minded persons. Ask about local protocol, for activities such as greetings, gifts, eating and praise. Make notes.

These kinds of fact gathering activities can complement previous, orthodox unobtrusive research, such as looking at available census data, newspaper reports, library research and governmental publications. Later, if you are mobilising, you will guide the community members through participatory appraisal to assess current conditions, and the more you know about the community first, the better you will be able to do that.

See: What is Community?

1. These guidelines do not all apply, of course, to those of you who are doing research on your own family or community. One guideline always applies, however: "make notes."

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© Copyright 1967, 1987, 2007 Phil Bartle
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Last update: 2014.08.16

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