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Local? Yes. Guide? Maybe

Delhi: local yes, guide maybe

Being local doesn’t qualify someone to be a local guide. Being a foreigner doesn’t dis-qualify someone from having insights into a local culture. Something that enables a decent specialist to be able to specialise (and, um, be, er, special) is their ability to apply their expertise and work effectively in foreign contexts. And some specialists are ultimately not that special.

With these provisos in mind it’s fair to say that our ability to gather meaningful data in foreign climes is dependent on having good local guides. The most obvious reason to hire guides is to provide cultural insights enterpret the local language. Less obviously a good local guide will use her social network to find appropriate study participants (when not using a recruiting agency); will know where to find what you want and negociate decent prices on anything and everything; makes the team aware of local sensitivities such as how to behave during meetings and where not to point the soles of your feet; dealing with local nuances such as power cuts; and even such simple but moral boosting things as knowing a decent neighbourhood restaurant. Also, in situations where gender is a barrier to gathering data having someone of the opposite sex around provides more options which ultimately leads to more data gathering opportunities.

Much like the rest of us, guides need a clearly described brief to be able to perform well. Given that the brief often changes as the project progresses we make an effort to keep everyone in the loop regarding the range and quality of the data that is being collected. It’s worth bearing in mind that asking questions can be seen as a strength or weakness depending on issues as cultural norms, age and the personality of the individuals and that positive and negative feedback can be enterpreted in a number of ways.

Thanks to our cultural guides this past week: Priyanka, Smriiti, Aashish, Samir and Surbee – your insights were much appreciated.