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Street Dynamics

Jalalabad: street interviews

One method we’ve experimented with here in Afghanistan is a varient of the ad-hoc, group street interview – an example above showing Panthea (interviewer) and Hamid (local fixer/translator) with a group of manual labourers in Jalalabad.

Group interviews are tough to pull off and gather meaningful data in any culture or context, in part because everyone wants to chime-in – but with the right approach they are an acceptable way to take a broad snapshot or pulse on a topic. Group questions like: “how many people here ….” work well to get the crowd aligned with the theme and process before targeting individuals with questions.

To start with the interviewer & translator approach the target participants in the street an act that typically draws a crowd. There’s a critical opening moment in any group interview that is especially pertinent here, where the team need to understand and react to the crowds’ intent – if there is any hostility what level of risk does it present and (how) can it be mitigated? For example the photos on this post were taken on a day when there were demonstrations in Jalalabad protesting against the continued occupation of ISAF forces in Afghanistan, a day when there’s a greater likelihood of crossing paths with someone with a bone to pick.

Intense day-time heat aside, our experiences with this method were positive – in the push-and-shove of the crowd strangers were looking out our female interviewer to ensure she wasn’t jostled or touched, and the crowd dynamics were just-about manageable. The team needs to stay aware of the crowd sentiment throughout the session.

Jalalabad: crowd dynamics

Given that a smaller team is nearly always better, three people works best: an interviewer + translator + photographer, with the fixer/translator focusing one the interview the photographer can hang back and keeping an eye of the dynamics at the edges of the crowd. As well as exploring the subject matter, the interviewer + translator need to take on the skills of a circus ring master and occasionally strict school teacher.

One sweet moment on this study came during the an interview with a crowd of opium junkies under a bridge in Kabul – the interview circle was at any time between 20 and 30 people, with a pretty grim backdrop of ~200 people/junkies either chasing the dragon plotting how to get their next fix or passed out. Panthea’s warm up questions included the wonderfully perky “so, show of hands, how many people here rob to feed their habit?”. Hands are raised.

Memorable stuff.