In our recent work on women rice parboilers in Nigeria, we asked the interviewees to indicate the gender of everyone on the map. While the below is far from being a final result (it’s just one of many maps), I was just amazed at what a difference it makes if you look at this map gender neutral or genderized. Following the traditional color code, girls are pink and boys are blue (grey are groups that involve men and women, white are institutional actors, no gender). Red links are restrictions, blue is information flow. Size of dots reflects height of influence tower. The pink dot in the middle is the interview partner.

I want to download your mind…

Descartes "Mind and Body" source Wikipedia Commons

When doing qualitative research there are so many nuances in the answers, that it often feels like: If you weren’t there, you won’t be able to really get it. Unless you can download the interviewer’s mind. Which – so far – is not possible. When I started developing and using Net-Map this didn’t matter much, because projects where small and basically I would be the person doing both, the interviewing and the analysis. Or I’d teach another research who would do another small project, doing both, the interviewing and the interpretation. But with this model you can only grow so far and I know we should be able to do better than this, to work in a bigger team of researchers, facilitators, interpreters and benefit from each others’ experience and insight, without plugging a USB cord into each others’ ears.

In an ongoing project evaluating a small business intervention (supporting female rice parboilers) in Nigeria, Jennifer Hauck and I developed a data entry sheet (46 KB) that is both structured and open enough to allow people who are not in the field (like me in this case) to understand and analyze the data and get a good understanding of the issues. I’ve attached it here for you to have a look at. I think one thing that really helps is to not only have categories for the interviewer to write down everything that was said but also to add a question like this:

“What is/are the most interesting lesson/s learnt from this interview (look for the thing that surprised you most, where you feel like the project needs to learn a lesson, something that made the interview partner most emotional or that looks really crucial for making or breaking their business)?”

Asking a question like this means that you take your facilitators seriously and are interested in their judgment and gut-feeling in a situation as much as you would be in your own, if you were the interviewer.

This might be the best idea you’ll ever have!

When I talk about Net-Map I often have people come to me afterward, telling me: “I once developed this awesome method for doing this and that, but somehow it never really caught on…”

This makes me think of the friend who told me, when my first excitement about Net-Map had settled and I was ready to do the next more exciting thing: “This might be the best idea you’ll ever have! Don’t waste it! Give it your 100%.”

And I think he was so right. I mean, no one knows if I’ll come up with the cure for AIDS or the perfect chocolate chip cookie tomorrow (both unlikely though). But I think our good ideas need a lot of respect. Treat them like kings. Treat your good idea as if it was the one shot you get. Focus. Be brave. Bragg. Work like a donkey. Feed your idea all the good stuff. Take it with you, where ever you go. Even to parties and on airplanes. Just smile (what do they know?) if your older male colleagues say: “Ah, there is the girl with the toys again.” Be your idea. At least for a while.And see if it catches on, if it works.

Because I’m convinced: You need so much more than the good idea itself for the idea to have an impact.

But then, if it does, if you see people writing their PhDs using your method, or evaluating their projects with it, or translating it in their own language… man, that’s about as great as seeing your flesh-and-blood baby make her first steps (which, by the way, little Sarah did today). Giving you this feeling that: YES! All these sleepless nights were absolutely worth it!