The Intense Road to Data Collection in the Child Community Care Study

January 29, 2014

On a sunny morning in December I found myself in the community centre of Stellenbosch University in Kayelitsha district, Cape Town, to listen to the preliminary results of its Child Community Care Study. However, the researchers had decided to start with a presentation on ‘the process of data collection’ and they bowled me over. Never had I realized that there was such a complex and emotional world behind the evidence! Indeed, a story that needs to be told!

Few realize data collection is the toughest part

Evidence-based working is what we believe in. What we often do not realize is that there is along road to evidence: from drafting the idea, to pursuing donors to fund the research, to data collection in the field, and finally the actual analysis. Few realize that the toughest part most certainly is the data collection in the field. 

Challenges encountered on the road to data collection

Zena Jacobs is logistical officer in the Child Community Care Study that aims to track the effect of various Community Based Organisations (CBOs) on child outcomes. She tracked all the randomly selected CBOs down by persistently mailing and phoning them: "Relation building was most important; a good relation with the staff of the CBOs and the caretakers would smooth our way". One of the largest challenges in the study was most certainly to trace the children after a year for the follow-up interviews. "Sometimes we literally had to knock on doors with a list of names". Lack of funding of participating CBOs was challenging as it often leads to a low capacity and high expectations of the study. "We also had to deal with the safety of the data collectors -all women-, preventing them for example from going out in the dark", says Zena. 

Data Collectors in the Child Community Care Study 

Just interviewing

The women who were selected to do the data collection all come from Kayelitsha, often from a context similar to the people they were interviewing. They could thus easily relate to the children and their caretakers. Their role as data collector has changed their lives! "As a parent, I am now more loving", one said, and another: "I am trying to be a person that children can rely on". There were many obstacles on the road too. Often they had to wait for hours for transport or for a person to show up for an interview, and many, many times they had to explain that they were just interviewing and not there to help. It was so difficult to listen to the stories of hardship of the caretakers and the children without being able to help. "Sometimes I got emotional because of the stories I heard", one said. 

Ease the feeling of helplessness

For research to be independent, the data collectors could not go into program implementation, although they were tempted so many times. Luckily they could bring a 'care package' with coffee, sugar and oil to each household, to compensate for the time given to the study, and the children received a 'thank you certificate'. This eased the feeling of helplessness of the data collectorsin a way. The data collectors also carried referral forms to refer to service providers nearby. After each visit the researchers organized briefing sessions with the data collectors, which served as psychosocial support for them. 

“We did not only interview, we brought love”

Going into the communities to 'collect data' is thus not an easy task. It takes time, lots of patience, relation building, a 'listening ear' and consistency. But in the end it can change lives: those of the data collectors, the interviewed caretakers and children and those children that will be better served when the results of the study are put back into practice! 

The Child Community Care Study

The Child Community Care Study is a joint cohort study by Professor Lorraine Sherr of University College of London and Professor Mark Tomlinson from Stellenbosch University in South Africa. The objective of the study is to gather data from 28 CBOs in Malawi and South Africa serving children affected by HIV in Sub Saharan Africa and to monitor their effect on child outcome. 979 children and their carers were interviewed. Children were traced after a year for a follow-up interview. 

By: Doortje 't Hart - Senior Advisor Children Affected by AIDS - STOP AIDS NOW!

This article has been published in the 4th edition of the Children and AIDS e-news