Field Researcher Experience – The Corner shop diaries project

My name is Sithokozile Moyo from the second largest city in Zimbabwe, Bulawayo. I hold a BA in Language and Communication studies from Lupane State University in Zimbabwe (graduated 2019). 

For a time since March 2020, Zimbabwe came to a standstill with the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic. Businesses and people’s daily lives were heavily affected even to the small corner shops in our neighbourhoods. As the disaster was unfolding, one of my former internship supervisors, Mhlalisi Ncube, approached me about doing Covid-19 and livelihoods related research work with him and L-IFT. The idea was exciting given the continuing situation of the Covid-19 crisis. The idea of working from home doing interviews via phone calls was all new to me and different to research work I had undertaken before. Most of my participants were from Bulawayo while a few were from out of town in Lupane in a totally different province but one that I was somewhat familiar with as I had gone to University in the small town. 

I am a recent graduate and employment is hard to find in Zimbabwe so when this opportunity was presented to me, I was very happy. I had to approach small and big shops which were selected for us and explain to them about the research and conduct intake interviews with them. As I was moving around shops in my area some shops were not welcoming at all, some bluntly rejected me thinking I had a political motive. I eventually did a baseline survey of ten shops. From my ten in baseline, six were selected by the L-IFT team for me to proceed to work with. 

Sithokozile collecting data from one of the corner shops in the project
Sithokozile collecting data from one of the corner shops in the project

We were trained together with other field researchers in Zimbabwe via a WhatsApp meeting since it was in the middle of a pandemic and lockdown. It was a bit complicated because we were all used to face to face training. We eventually all got the hang of the app and our work commenced with our final respondents. During the first week of the research, I put on my mask and keeping the recommended distance, conducted the surveys in person and explained the kind of information that they were supposed to provide, and that in future we were going to hold the interviews via phone calls only. For the two respondents outside of Bulawayo, everything was all done via phone calls from the start. 

The participants of the research were to provide aspects of their business and personal lives such as their income, savings, expenditures, loans, and some other aspects that may take place during every week and I would input this into Finbit. The participants understood that the interviews are frequent and that the questions are the same all the time although they might be some changes in the future. Being with the participants for some time now has helped as they know me well and are expecting my phone calls and messages. We now treat our interviews as conversations where they tell me about how their week went, the income they got, the expenses they paid and how much the pandemic has affected their business and personal lives.

Sithokozile collecting data from one of the corner shops in the project
Sithokozile collecting data from one of the corner shops in the project

The most challenging task is that sometimes respondents can get impatient. The other problem I face is calling respondents and their phones not going through, this becomes a challenge because it sometimes takes considerable time to reach them. It was also hard to keep them interested in the project as they wanted to know what they were going to get out of it. We had been told not to promise anything as the research was only for learning and could be used for developing better policies for people throughout the world. However, it was good that in July 2020 all the shop respondents received brand new phones as a way for them to see Finbit for themselves on their phones and in the future use it themselves with little guidance from me. The phones were also a nice way to keep them engaged in the project. Every participant was beyond happy in receiving the brand-new boxed phones and were amazed by the good gesture. In that week and the coming weeks, my respondents have been very cooperative and even more attentive of my calls.  

 My experience has been good, and I am thankful to L-IFT for giving me the opportunity to be part of the research. I had to always exercise patience as some respondents were impolite and impatient. I had to be diligent with them and always probe further to get adequate answers. To me every day is a workday, I interview some respondents even during weekends. I have gained valuable experience and I have become more skillful in data collection and am happy to continue with this work. 


Sithokozile Moyo

Field Researcher (L-IFT)