"Finding Out about Energy Needs and Resources: the Human Dimension," by Mary Elmendorf, presented at the International W...


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"Finding Out about Energy Needs and Resources: the Human Dimension," by Mary Elmendorf, presented at the International Workshop on Energy Survey Methodologies, National Academy of Sciences, Jekyll Island, GA, Jan. 21-15,1980 (32 pages)
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Mary Elmendorf, Ph.D.
Consulting Anthropologist

Presented at the
International Workshop on Energy Survey Methodologies
National Academy of Sciences
Jekyll Island, Georgia
January 21-25, 1980

Home: .
535 Blvd. of Presidents
Sarasota, FLA 53577

1514 17th Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20036


In any given society, there exist unknown or poorly

understood socio-cultural factors which have a direct

bearing on ways in which planning and policy determina-

tion can be designed and implemented. The purpose of this

discussion paper is to provide an overview of the most

useful social science data-gathering methodologies which

can be utilized to determine what these factors are, how

important they may be in determining acceptance of change,

and what strategies or tactics might best be used to

create community awareness of actual practices and options

in energy-related activities.

There are, in fact, numerous techniques of the social

sciences, especially those of cultural anthropology, which

have been shown to have a high level of validity in structur-

ing policies which relate to small and traditional commu-

nities. This paper will describe some of these techniques,

with special reference to their applicability to energy

needs and will stress ways of identifying and categorizing

the human dimensions of community needs in qualitative terms

which can be useful for project design.

- 2 -

Horror stories abound with respect to large and

small projects which have failed because some "apparently"

insignificant cultural factor was either unrecognized or

ignored. It is rarely possible to design projects or

to arrive at useful policy guidelines which affect the

daily lives of people in traditional societies without

having detailed information regarding the perceptions such

people have of themselves: their value systems and

priorities, their fears and aspirations, and their

customs, traditions, and taboos.

Included in this presentation, therefore, are use-

ful suggestions and techniques that highlight these

important considerations in the gathering of base-line

data for the assessment of energy needs.. The human dimen-

sions will be stressed as we focus on the importance of

energy for such activities as cooking, heating, preserving

foods, agricultural production, transporting goods and

people, and other vital purposes.


Existing inventories of community energy needs and

resources are woefully inadequate for the requirements of

planners and program designers in the developing countries,

particularly in rural areas.

- 3 -

In his excellent review of traditional and non-

conventional energy sources in the developing world,

David Hughart notes that there is evidence of:

. widespread shortages of the traditional
and nonconventional fuels on which an
estimated one-half of the world's popula-
tion relies for cooking and other energy needs.
Collection of these fuels, which include
firewood, charcoal, dung, and the inedible
portions of agricultural crops, has become
in some areas an important demand on the
labor and cash resources of low-income groups
as well as a threat to the soil resources on
which agricultural development depends. Es-
timates of traditional fuel supply and demand
are presented, but the data base in this field
is too weak to allow much confidence to be
placed in them. (Hughart: 1979)

Lack of adequate information may well result, in

part, from the lack of recognition by villagers of what

constitutes an "energy" factor in their daily lives. While

most of them are aware of the need for fuel, for example,

few would recognize the "energy" factor involved in the
time and human effort required to gather or cut wood.

Nor would similar efforts required for drawing and hauling

water be singled out as energy until, perhaps, the advent

*/ This often becomes defined when fuel is first purchased
or sold. At this point, men begin selling and carrying
wood, a task usually assigned to women when only human
energy is considered.

- 4 -

of electricity, pumped water, and home distribution

suddenly dramatizes the vastly increased released time

enjoyed by the women and children who had previously pro-

vided the water.

Similarly, the connection between electricity and

increased productivity of craft items for cash income

may not be immediately noted, but the extended time

available for such work will ultimately result in

observable change, and in so doing will bring up the

question of the trade-off of electricity costs vs.

increased income.

Similar energy trade-offs are evident in small and

relatively underdeveloped communities. The changing

relative costs and degrees of availability of energy

sources and usage systems in relatively underdeveloped

communities are difficult to quantify, but their effects

are readily visible. Traditional sources of energy for

farm work -- draft animals and beasts of burden -- may tend
to be replaced,hen forage becomes limited and attractive,

"modern" technologies are offered. But often the

apparent benefits of the modern technologies prove to

have more hidden costs and fewer corollary benefits such

- 5 -

as fertilizers, hides, milk, etc. As the costs of obtaining

energy from the new systems escalate, reconsideration may

be given to the more traditional systems.*/

Community energy needs, resources, and uses con-

stitute a special form of interactive dynamic, seldom

stable enough to quantify, but almost always responsive

to sets of community value systems which are themselves

not always easy to determine. It is the aim of this

paper to explore in more detail some of the methodologies

available to determine what these factors are and how

they can be interpreted and used for planning purposes.

Before discussing the most useful social science

data-gathering methodologies, I would like to refer

briefly to two human dimensions of energy -- or perhaps

energy loss is a better word. These relate to: (1) food

loss or dehydration through unsafe water and/or sanitation

and; (2) maternal depletion through constant child bearing.

In both instances, more appropriate technologies could

significantly reduce these energy losses which impact on

*/ Note article in Harrowsmith "In Praise of Bigger Horses"
describing the fight in the USA in the 1920's between
the tractor and the draft horse. Farm animals were taken
as down-payments, at inflated prices for tractors to get
the new technology accepted. September 1979:57-62.

- 6 -

the total reservoirs of human energy in developing


Also of importance is the consideration of the

amount of energy expended to obtain basic needs such

as water, fuel, and food. George Self, in his excellent

study entitled "Design of Community Renewable Energy

Projects," notes that: "Development throughout history

has consisted of finding substitutes for human energy; yet

the majority of people living in rural areas of LDCs still

must rely on human power to provide their subsistences."

(Self: 1979) Sometimes there is a trade-off, often

unstated, between two energy needs: household labor and

reproduction. For instance, the number of children a

family will want/have and the contribution of these children

toward water carrying, wood collecting, and other labor for

the household economy, are interrelated. (See literature

on "Cost/Benefits of Children," Merrill, Fawcett, Nag et al.)

The interrelationships of the various energy

needs are changing and being redefined within commu-

nities as they reevaluate costs and benefits, both

social and economic, of the various energy alternatives

- 7 -

in a rapidly changing society. For instance, as expecta-

tions rise and cash for consumer items is added to sub-

sistence needs, village families evaluate present labor

contributions of children in the sharing of energy needed

for maintaining the household economy versus educating

them so that their future contributions may be both

more substantial and more lasting during old age when

parents' physical energy is exhausted and no social security

is provided. (See Mary Elmendorf, "Anita: A Maya Women

Copes," in Learning about Rural Women, 1979.)

Within rural communities, both men and women share

a common fear with regard to having insufficient physical

energy to carry out the daily chores so critical to their

survival. For instance, one of the first questions asked

by many women concerning use of contraceptive alternatives

or surgical procedures is whether or not either would inter-

fere with their ability to work.

The social science methodologies needed to obtain

behavioral, attitudinal, and social organization data

related to energy are in some ways less difficult to

implement than the "software" components for projects in-

volving water supply and excreta disposal or contraceptive

- 8 -

usage, since the latter often involves taboos or matters of

a highly personal nature. Energy needs and resources, on

the other hand, are more complex, and interrelated, and,

therefore, must be viewed in a holistic way within the

environmental setting as well as within the socio-

cultural context and the changing economic systems.

First, energy production in a village
ecosystem is highly dependent on agri-
culture. The village energy system tends
to be a tight subsistence economy, in
which little material output is wasted and
most energy is produced and used locally.
A change in the number of livestock or the
ratio of grain to straw (as in the introduc-
tion of high-yielding varieties) could upset
the balanced subsistence village energy
economy, which uses dung and straw. Labor
availability for peak agricultural seasons
will be affected by time needed to collect
fuelwood. Draft animals provide pulling
energy and dung, and consume straw. Dung
use as fuel rather than fertilizer affects
soil fertility; and housing and cattle
fodder compete for crop residues used as
fuel. Conventional surveying does not take
into account the complexity of these relation-
ships. (Cecelski and Dunkerly, 1970:27)

The introduction of the low-cost, fuel-efficient,

"Lorena" wood-burning stove -- originally begun by CEMAT

in Guatemala -- into both rural and urban projects in

Honduras has had rapid acceptance and diffusion for various

- 9 -

reasons.*/ The Lorena Stove program was co-sponsored

by the Save the Children Federation and the Honduran

Federation of Housing Cooperatives, with technical

assistance in program design from the Foundation for

Cooperative Housing. The stove program was promoted

within the cooperative structure, and was presented to

the membership as an agenda item in the periodic coopera-

tive meetings. A system was developed to facilitate the

acquisition of the stoves by the members of the coopera-

tive, with financing available for the construction of

the stove itself and also of the shed to protect it from

the rain. It is felt that this system of promotion

facilitated the acceptance of the new technology repre-

sented by the Lorena Stove.

The first user for pilot testing of the stove's

acceptability within the community was identified by the

president of the cooperative, and proved to be a well-

selected person; her use of the stove was careful and

neat, and her perception of the fuel economy offered was

clear and easily communicated to her interested neighbors,

*/ See reports from Save the Children Federation and
Foundation for Cooperative Housing.

- 10 -

who soon sought to participate in the program. Quickly

understood by the women in both countries, was the fact

that approximately one-half the amount of wood was needed

for cooking. In the cold highlands of Guatemala, however,

the fact that the stove had much less heat loss into the

room was considered a negative feature since they wanted

the warmth and the glow while the Hondurans, in their warmer

climate, appreciated the coolness in their open cooking


Other factors also affected the rapid adoption

in Honduras, such as the fact that a less energy efficient,

raised stove was already in use in parts of the

country, both rural and urban. In the transfer of the

technology from Guatemala, the built-in water heating device

was lost, but some of the women stove builders are rein-

troducing this feature which provides warm water (boiled,

even) without use of extra fuel. The fact that women have

been trained as stove builders has not only given the in-

dividual women masons new prestige and earning ability but

has accelerated diffusion as women discuss their needs and


- 11 -

Since in both of these areas most fuel is pur-

chased weekly or daily consumption patterns are well

known by the women. In areas where wood is collected

rather than bought, families are concerned less with

increasing deforestation than with the extra energy

and time needed for obtaining fuel over ever wider

areas; hence, they welcome decreased consumption.

An even more complicated energy picture can be

illustrated by a community where wood has to be

brought from a mountain area a day's walk away. In

San Sebastian, a Oaxacan village where this is the case,

there is no provision for disposal of human excreta

except for the family pigs which are loosed each evening

to clean the areas used for defecation. When a resident

anthropologist explained to the village leaders the use

of methane from home biogas latrines for cooking in

Korea and China, the response was enthusiastic. The

problem here was the lack of engineering know-how. The

interlocking of engineering testing with felt needs and

socioeconomic data and local involvement is a critical

need in the total research picture. Cooperative planning

and project design can be mutually reenforcing.

- 12 -

Users of energy, both in developing countries and

in the U.S.A., make decisions on the basis of what seems

logical to them, including their perceptions of benefits

or costs. In developing countries social costs such as

offense to kin or friends may well have equal or greater

influence than economic costs and benefits.*/ In a

consumer-oriented society on the other hand keeping up

with the Jones' may emerge as the single-most important


All people are users of energy. This is as much

true in the developed world as it is in the developing

world, although since energy has historically been

relatively affordable in most developed countries the

issue has not drawn a great deal of attention until re-

cently. It is probably safe to say that decisions on

energy use are universally made on the basis of what

seems logical, reasonable, and acceptable by all energy

users. As energy becomes relatively more costly in

both developing and developed nations, changing patterns

can be seen. The fuel-efficient, wood burning stove

- 13 -

begins to sound like a good idea to the woman who now

spends several hours a day gathering firewood, the

compact car looks like a good idea to last year's full-

size car owner.

New techniques and approaches designed to con-

serve or maximize energy seldom have immediate acceptance.

Prior to acceptance, they must first be understood, and

then seen as socially acceptable, before they will be

used. Consider how much greater a technological leap a

woman in a rural village must make to move from a three-

stone hearth on the ground to a Lorena stove than the one

an American motorist must make when he moves to a more

energy-efficient automobile. And consider then the

difficulty so many motorists have in making that re-

latively minor adjustment. Clearly, there are important

considerations here which are unrelated to economic

factors of the choice.

Social Contexts Problem-Solving/Dialogue

A problem-solving perspective depends on a

"development from below" or "bottoms-up" approach on the

part of the agency combined with a "learning" approach

for the community. "Far more attention needs to be

paid to the differing social contexts of development,

- 14 -

especially at the grass-roots level, and to the complexity

of the social relations involved in the exchange of goods

and services."*/ Within the context of development, this

is particularly relevant to information gathering. During

the search and retrieval process, the agency obtains the

necessary data about the community to understand present

energy uses and to suggest appropriate alternatives,

and the community with insight into its own situation and

an awareness of the opportunities for changes to solve

their felt needs.

The problem-solving approach does require a greater

amount of communication during the initial stages. This,

in turn, helps to achieve effective community participation

in improving present uses or in choosing a technology

which will have relative advantages over previous methods

and will be compatible with the users' present values,

attitudes, and institutions. Adaption, or encapulation V

of the new into the old, can then take place. It is easier

to change technologies than to change behavior, and it

is more difficult to determine cultural acceptability than

technical feasibility.

*/ Pitt, David, Development from Below, The Hague, Mouton,

- 15 -

Data Gathering: Survey Instruments

Considering the complexity of the energy picture,

it is important that the body of knowledge that is re-

quired for the specific study or project be carefully

identified before the data gathering starts. In using

survey instruments, great care should be taken to

structure categories and language that are culturally

specific. If a standardized instrument is used for cross-

cultural purposes, it must be pre-tested and adapted to

local conditions as was done with the White et al

questionnaires developed for the Latin American case

studies in the World Bank Study on the socio-cultural

aspects related to acceptance and diffusion of appropriate

technologies for water supply and excreta disposal.

(Elmendorf and Buckles, 1978)

An alternative methodology, which is really a

technique for refining an instrument or preparing a

more reliable one for assessing attitudes and beliefs and

values, is the Heuristic Elicitation Methodology (HEM),

originally designed by Harding and Canfield. In this

type of research, focused group discussions of particular

problems and solutions are followed by individual,

- 16 -

open-ended interviews with both men and women to elicit

attitudes and perceptions. The dialogues precede the

preparation of a more general survey instrument, with

culturally-specific categories local terminology.

If we take this concept a bit further and assume

"that only villagers themselves can accurately interpret

village life and opinion," then participatory surveys

could be conducted similar to those done in the Arusha

Appropriate Technology Project:

As opposed to written questionnaires which
either depend entirely on one person to
accurately interpret and record responses
or confine participation to only those
villagers who are print literate, the
participatory survey method uses dialogue
as its primary medium of communication.
Dialogue is not only the traditional means
of communication in rural areas where the
oral tradition is still very much pre-
valent, but it also encourages in-depth
analysis of the village situation by the
villagers themselves as a necessary pre-
requisite to action. (Arusha Appropriate
Technology Project, Annual Report, 1977-

Nuts and Bolts

The social science techniques which have been found

most useful in determining existing attitudes and practices,

as well as in designing more acceptable and effective

projects, are those in which the local people were most

- 17

involved in the identification of community felt needs and

priorities. When problem-solving approaches are substituted

for or used in addition to a structured questionnaire, the

result is dialogue between community users and agency

facilitators or social scientists involved in project pro-

motion and research. Much more data is generated than just

answers to preconceived questions.

Face-to-face communication raises awareness of

present practices and alternative opportunities, and de-

fines problems and priorities. Ultimately, the joint

analysis by community and social scientist or agency leads

to a greater understanding of needs and resources and of

course alternatives. The figure below illustrates this

interchange in which the ensuing dialogue becomes a process

of search and retrieval.
.- -. q

/ 1

Adaption from "Haveiock in J. Rothman in
Plnning and Organizing for Social Change
19744 Columbia University Press, New York.

- 18 -

The field methods used to achieve this dialogue

must be flexible enough to relate to local populations,

agencies, and research personnel as well as to the overall

situation and research data needed. A holistic approach

which takes into account the perceptions of the environ-

ment by the people (as individuals and as a part of a

cultural group), along with those of experts and officials,

is suggested as a suitable one.

In her excellent study entitled Guidelines For

Field Studies in Environmental Perception, Anne Whyte*/

has listed twenty-four field methods, most of which are

potentially useful in analyzing energy needs, uses, and

resources in developing countries. Along with full

discussion of the technqiues, she has indicated time

and training requirements, including indications of

methods which can be carried out by field-trained

assistants. System variables are indicated along with

notations as to whether these techniques are applicable

to literate or non-literate populations and tolerant to

local variations in format and procedure. References to

survey literature on the different methods make it possible

*/ Whyte, Anne V.T., Guidelines For Field Studies in
Environmental Perception, UNESCO, 1977.

- 19 -

to evaluate more thoroughly the most appropriate technique

for a given situation.


Before commenting on the specific techniques which

have proved especially useful in obtaining pertinent

data, it is important to note that a combination of

techniques which involve observing, listening and ques-

tioning -- both structured and unstructured -- is most

effective in obtaining reliable data. A standardized survey

is not enough and multiple surveys can be worse, not better.*/

Local people -- leaders and followers, men and women,

students and the elderly -- can and should be active

participants in the process. Quantitative data needs to

be supplemented with other more qualitative materials to

understand the problems and plan creatively. The choice

of the most effective methods depends on training, rapport,

and empathy of the available field personnel as well as

on the dynamics of the community. Diversity and flexibility

of approach are recommended with emphasis on communication

skills and mutual respect.

*/ Graham, Thomas, "Critical Issues for Designing Energy
Survey in Africa" background paper for Overseas Develop-
ment council, Nov. 1979.

- 20 -

Within the context of methodological and ethical

considerations, it is critical that field research be

carried out in a spirit of ethical openness and scientific

impartiality. Confidences must be respected and the general

aims and purposes of the study should be made as clear

as possible to all these who serve not as "human subjects,"

but as participant informants, collaborators, and con-

sultants. Frankness, honesty, and open communication must

be deliberately fostered, both with villagers and with agency

personnel at local, regional, state, and national levels.

Findings and recommendations should be shared promptly with

all colleagues, village, and agency/organization personnel.

Basic Approaches to Field Research

As we evaluate various field techniques designed

to promote an understanding of energy use and supply in

the daily lives of people, it is important to be mindful

of the fact that there is no ideal or best method. The

various techniques have disciplinary overtones and

complexities that tend to confuse the picture in trans-

disciplinary, international research. It may sound

impractical, we must remember, that nearly all field

techniques are based on a combination of three main

approaches: observing, listening, and asking questions

- 21 -

which are or should be mutually enriching and complementary

(Whyte 1977).

Criteria for selection of the various methodologies

depend on a number of variables including the field situa-

tion, personnel, time constraints, and the specific

research objectives particularly if trade-offs have to be

made to facilitate a comparative international research

plan. When possible, it is better to select techniques

that provide new information and insights.or cross-checks

on other data.

Asking questions, or the reliance on surveys and

questionnaires, as we all know, has been the emphasis in

the social sciences during the last few decades as we

have searched for scientific objectivity and quantitative

results. These techniques range from the researcher -

dominated, prior-structured instruments where consistent

measurements are the focus, to the "situation-defined"

research where unexpected but extremely relevant findings

surface. The important thing to remember is that these

approaches should not be exclusive or competitive, but


Combining micro and macro studies is one of the more

exciting possibilities in research. Ester Boserup, the

- 22 -

well known Danish economist, urged that more anthropologists

continue to do detailed, in-depth case studies which she

had found so useful in her now classic book on Women's Role

in Economic Development. Actual planning and execution of

the research at both micro and macro levels in an inter-

disciplinary approach, which is being used more and more

offer real possibilities in the energy field as research

instruments programs and research plans, must be redesigned

to respond to new findings. This process approach suggests

the dialogue/problem-solving approaches mentioned above

which are based on the philosophy that the research

experience can be valuable in itself both for the researcher

and for the researched. Some becomes action or advocacy

research, and hopefully more pure research can become


Field Techniques

The following are selected data-gathering methodologies

for obtaining base-line information on the human dimensions

of energy needs and resources (perceived and real) which

are especially useful in developing countries.

- 23 -

Observing: Observation can be direct or indirect,

structured or unstructured, and there are various specialized

techniques to be used. Observing actual behavior is

a basic tool for understanding the human dimensions of

energy needs and uses, especially within the context

of household economies. Public behavior is much easier

to observe and analyze than practices within the private


Along with community knowledge, practices, and

beliefs, which questionnaires may reveal, there is a need

for detailed information on individual behaviors, attitudes,

and hopes. Ethnographic data highlight some of the more

intimate household routines and energy uses. Most of

this can be obtained through indirect observation, in-

direct questioning, and participant observation.

Participant Observation: which encompasses observing,

listening, and asking questions, used to be considered

primarily an anthropological method for understanding

foreign cultures, but is more and more being used as a

tool for obtaining valid data and can serve as an

adaptable method for field investigation of energy

uses. In participant observation, the researcher

- 24 -

lives with and participates in the daily life and

activities of the people being studied. As a specialized

technique, participant observation is less concerned

with tools for handling data after they are collected

than with obtaining valid data.

Understandably, the researcher's own perception

and experiences condition the collection and inter-

pretation of data. On the other hand, foreign expatriate

researchers in some ways have advantages over social

scientists working in their own cultures, since:

They can reasonably maintain an attitude of
ignorance and naivete which enables them to ask
simple questions, and to repeat them in the
manner of a child seeking information. It is
easier for the anthropologist to put the
respondent at his/her ease as teacher and
expert where the researcher is clearly alien
to the society." (Whyte: 1977,36)

Expatriates working alone with local counterparts can

get very false or partial information. Sharing with

colleagues and participants is essential from the point

of improving individual research results as well as from

a code of professional ethics.


Some of the many existing sociological and ethnographic

studies in various languages which are available certainly

- 25 -

contain energy-related data gathered by participant obser-

vation which could be useful in preparing specific energy-

related schedules. Furthermore, the researchers who have

done such ethnographic studies make up a pool of talent

which could be mobilized for specific follow-up research

and can work with local students and counterparts.

Behavioral mapping is a reliable and simple

technique for observing and recording specific behaviors

in relation to specific locations. For example, this

technique, was used to determine relationships between

water use and defecation patterns in order to identify

possible reuse components for grey water and culturally

acceptable locations for bathing, laundry, and latrine

facilities to maximize health and sanitation. Similar

observation could be a useful device in analyzing daily

energy needs, resources, and available options.

Map-making, the actual preparation of a wall

map, noting households, streets and community resources --

particularly those being analyzed -- is an extremely useful

tool. For instance in Chan Kom, a remote Maya village of

650 people, the bi-lingual students in the sixth grade

social science class, together with their teacher and the

- 26 -

researcher, made a household survey and prepared a

village map showing existing services -- electricity, water,

and house type. The map is still used by the mayor, and

the teacher, as well as outside agencies as a basis for

planning. In fact, villagers used the research data and

map to develop a proposed for improved housing and

received a government grant.

Pictorial analysis and sorting. The director

of an extremely successful integrated rural development

project (with a health component) in Columbia related

how difficulties between the villagers and the inter-

disciplinary team*/ were solved by a relatively simple

technique, i.e., pictorial analysis. Selected villagers

were requested to sort photographs of the community

[taken by the anthropologist as part of her field survey]

into categories of needs or priorities, and then to

prioritize these. Although the villagers categorized

the needs and problems somewhat differently, parallels

could be drawn with respect to their priority listings.

However, when this same task was assigned to the profes-

sionals, they sorted things in very different categories

*/ Composed of doctor economist sociologist, anthropologist
and engineer who were working on a joint planning board
with local communities who were very involved in the process.
(Elemendorf and Buckles 1978)

- 27 -

according to their disciplines. Most significant, how-

ever, was the fact that their understanding of

the priority needs of the village were very different

from those of the villagers. As a result, comparing the

two interpretations provided an excellent tool for self-

analysis on the part of the staff and a new understanding

of the need to give a high status to village priorities.

Asking questions. (Interviews & Surveys)

In the World Bank case studies, on appropriate

technology for water supply and waste disposal, structured

interviews with the local leaders, adapted to the local

situation, were used successfully in one village in

Guatemala. In another village a more open-ended un-

structured schedule was administered to obtain extremely

useful information from leaders and innovators. The

dialogue of the interviews in both villages gave the

leaders an opportunity to explain local needs and re-

sources as they viewed them and to learn about possible

alternatives including past projects that were unsuccess-


The interview becomes an exchange of information

and not just an extractive process. In interviews with

- 28 -

other knowledgeable people, such as midwives, healers,

and storekeepers new clues to problems, needs and re-

sources often surface, more basic to reality sometimes

than the information of community leaders. Interviewing

selected families or categories of people, such as mothers,

can be extremely useful if carried on over a period of

time, so that specific subjects of interest can be explored

in depth.

The important thing to remember in all interview-

ing is to record in full -- using the language of the

respondent when possible. Taping is a helpful tool,

but not always appropriate during the interview session.

If sociological surveys are needed, they should be based

on the results of the preliminary interviews and prior

observation (participant observation, if possible) and

should be designed in local terminology and categories

meaningful to the people.


e Oral history is a method of recording open-ended

questions concerning a single topic or specific topics.

With good rapport and sufficient time, material collected

in this manner has high validity and is less researcher-

dominated than most. Historical material on past latrine

- 29 -

programs was secured in this way, including political implica-

tions and agency fiascos as remembered by the villagers.

This technique is particularly useful with the elderly.

In fact, talking with the elderly often taps the

wisdom that formal science has been unable to unlock.

In Kenya, foresters and other authorities
(e.g. Dale and Greenway, Trees of Kenya
have stated that it is impossible to
propagate the valuable indigenous tree,
mugaa, Melia Volkensis, which is a prized
local hardwood tree in Nibere Division,
Ember District, Kenya. We asked an old
man, who looked at us pityingly and said
"Why, every uncircumcised herd-boy knows
how to grow a mugaa. The seed must be
chewed by a goat and after it has assed
through the goats intestines, you pick
up the seed from the goat droppings, and
plant it. And then it will grow. (Wood,
Brokensha et al: 1980)

He was correct.

Informal listening, particularly to school children,

even over hearing them at play, can add new insights. The

periodic reports of over 15,000 selected school children

on their observations regarding presence of certain lichens

added depth, at very little cost, to an environmental study

in Britain (Whyte: 1977).

Listening to the statements that are not answers to

structured questions are often times useful in the

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data-gathering process. (Fuelwood Use and Rural Community

Fuelwood Programs, DEVRES Dennis Wood, D. Brokensh,

Gamser Jackson & Riley) AID: 1980.


As noted in the beginning there is no single best

method, nor are the more sophisticated research instru-

ments designed primarily in the language and categories

of the industrialized world necessarily more valid.

As a rule, simplicity, honesty, and diversity
should be stressed . . Diversity in
method has been a little used means of in-
creasing the amount and quality of information.
Wherever and whenever possible a combination
of the three approaches (asking questions,
observing and listening) should be used.
Similarly structured and unstructured methods
are complementary in the kind of data they can
provide. (Whyte, 1977:112)

The purpose of socio-cultural data gathering

particularly micro-level is to get people to talk -- not

simply to answer arbitrary questions about predefined

specific categories of information. The gathering of

data about socio-cultural factors and materials required

by engineers and planners is an important part of the

educational process for everyone involved. Not only do

community members learn data gathering techniques but

they also learn a great deal about their own community,

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its problems, and the possible solutions. Engineers (and

other outsiders) get the data on perceivedk'actual

situations and possible reactions to alternatives. This

data gathering is probably the single most important

phase for establishing a dialogue with community

residents and agency personnel and for stimulating

community involvement as researchers and researched seek

to understand the human dimensions of energy use and