Learning to fly: piloting research in Papua New Guinea
Research can be a tricky business. There are many difficulties: ethical considerations, sampling techniques, logistics and safety, and ensuring the whole endeavour answers important and under-researched questions. Many of these issues can be addressed before the research kicks off, particularly through a thorough literature review and stakeholder consultations. However, to really iron out the kinks in a proposed research project, a well-designed pilot phase is essential. Piloting means testing research instruments and approaches with people who are similar to research participants, but do not participate in the main study.
Despite a mountain of text-books promoting its benefits, all too often researchers fail to devote the time and resources piloting deserves – this is particularly true with qualitative or mixed-methods research. In addition, the results of pilot studies are rarely written up, leading sociologists Edwin R. van Teijlingen and Vanora Hundley to call for ‘more discussion amongst researchers of both the process and outcomes of pilot studies’.
The importance of piloting a research instrument was brought home to us last year when we tested a questionnaire in Papua New Guinea (PNG). The research, eventually conducted across four provinces, aimed at better understanding public servants’ perceptions and experiences of good governance and corruption. To do so, a semi-structured questionnaire was designed to gather quantitative and qualitative data. Clearly, this is a sensitive topic. We wanted to know just what types of questions we could ask, and which were too sensitive. So, we undertook a two-pronged approach to testing the questionnaire.
First, we spoke to PNG public servants undertaking studies at the Australian National University. This allowed for testing the questions in what we thought would be a safe environment – that is, public servants were away from their colleagues and were able to talk more freely than at their workplaces in PNG.
Second, we …read more