How was I going to use methods mentioned earlier in the field, where I was finding it difficult to even start a conversation. It was at this point that observation in the context became my teacher. I began taking buses that make once-a-day trip within Banni, spending time at bus-stops, mawa shops, police check-post and the only hospital in Banni in the hope that I see something, I can use.
- First thing that struck me was the absolute absence of women in public space. Is that a code too; reflective of the place of women in the society here?
- Whenever I met women, they were accompanied by a male member from the family and were either going to Bhuj to seek medical treatment or to make purchases at the Bhuj market. Most women I met did not speak Hindi, if I had to talk to them, I had to learn Kachchhi-Sindhi otherwise I would always be dependent on male members of the family for translation. That would probably keep the women from opening up to another woman (me), which would eventually affect my Banni mission.
- People follow a lifestyle that is in synchronization with nature in places where traditional livelihoods like animal husbandry or farming are practiced. These lifestyles have a rhythm to themselves and to work in such field areas a researcher / designer has to identify these rhythms and design one’s work schedule around it. For example if you meet a Maldhari when he is busy milking and tending to his buffalos early in the morning and start asking him questions he is going to be very annoyed as typically one joint family can have between 30 to over 300 animals to look after.
- It is critical to identify whether use of photography as a method is acceptable to the users/community one is studying. If it creates an issue it is better to draw pictures, till sufficient trust is built between oneself and the community. I took out my camera in presence of a Banni woman to photograph her embroidery. It annoyed an older gentleman in the house. He told me that that taking pictures of womenfolk was an un-Islamic act and I should desist from it. ‘It is impossible to predict and mistaken to prescribe, precise methods for ethnographic research. In practice, decisions are best made once researchers are in a position to assess which specific visual methods will be appropriate or ethical in a particular research context, therefore allowing researchers to account for their relationships with informants and their experience and knowledge of local visual cultures’.
- Keeping oneself covered from head to toe, was considered to be a code for a cultured Banni woman and I began to dress likewise. Small factors like the dress code of the field researcher could send out subtle positive signals of respect towards the users/community one is working with.
- Public transport is erratic in places like Banni and yet, taking the public transport gives the designer/researcher the opportunity to study one’s users/community in their own context. Also, connections made like this help increase the designers’ / researchers’ social capital in the field.
- ome individuals in such remote areas have an access to large number of locals owing to the nature of their work. For example a village Sarpanch, a doctor, an Anganwaadi teacher or policemen, would know several people in their community. It is good to make friends with such people, as soon as one visits a new field area.
Eventually, when we call ourselves user-centric designers, our methods must reflect the same. And hence one must seize with both hands; every opportunity of engaging with the users/community members in diverse contexts. Community activities like house building or well digging party (all the villagers get together and do this), a community dinner or lunch and even providing emotional or logistical support during times of happiness (wedding, birth of a child, festival) or mourning (funerals) are opportunities where designer/ researcher can become one with the locals in their own context.
These improvised methods were developed from observing daily interactions and happenings in several villages in Banni. They take into account several socio-cultural codes that I have encountered over a period of time. And these methods need improvisation depending on the context. ‘It is frequently emphasized that methodologies are developed for/with particular projects, they are interwoven with theory and ‘as most good researchers know, it is not unusual to make up methods as you go along. The methods should serve the aims of the research, not the research serve the aims of the methods.