IHDS Behind the Scenes

Hub Of Activities

I wonder what OP Sharma’s office will look like when tablets replace paper questionnaires. For now, it is overflowing with people and large canvass bags.

            We are getting ready to start training interviewers. The first training is scheduled in Lucknow in two days. While we have been working pretty hard for several months on questionnaire development and formatting, the work has suddenly taken on a physical form with vast quantities of tangible goods being purchased, stored and shipped. The sheer physical scope of IHDS was suddenly apparent as we started buying 500 bags for interviewers, 200 weighing scales, 200 measuring takes and “L” shaped wooden strips to ensure height measurement is accurate.  I forget, we only bought 80 Ls, Sharmaji located 120 Ls in a storeroom from IHDS-I and had them polished!

     As I sign what must be the 112th piece of paper for the day, my only solace is that OP Sharma is signing even more. Every item that is shipped to the training venue and to our data collection partners is checked and noted by him. His little office is buzzing with field supervisors walking in and out, clipboards being counted and packed, big sacks of materials getting packed so that our supervisors can carry some of the materials with them on train to Lucknow and thereby save on freight costs.  I am assigned transport of high value items so I am carrying 40 mobile phones, portable printer and the backup projector.  

     As I observe this hum of activity, I am struck by the fact that if we were ambitious enough to try to conduct IHDS-III, the world would be very different. We will probably be shipping iPads, or even better, Indian made tablets instead of bundles of questionnaires and clipboards. But whatever the future may hold, it is hard not be impressed by the sheer magnitude of effort that IHDS-II involves and the ingenuity that it fuels. For a few days I have been hearing mutterings about extension boards that I have ignored. Yesterday I was shown to extension boards – and they really are boards – with 25 feet cords that had been manufactured by NCAER maintenance department. When I asked why we needed to make our own boards instead of buying normal power strips, the answer was that these strips only have 5-6 feet long cords, why waste Rs. 800 on them when we can make our own with longer cords to fit all needs?  Hmm… I think I will quietly plunk down the money for a surge protector for my laptop and projector but in a way that does not hurt the feelings of our maintenance staff who must have labored hard to produce these extension boards. 

     Dinesh Tiwari and Ajay Gharami are in Lucknow taking care of training logistics and periodically calling us up to report that Lucknow rail station was knee deep in rain water as they landed and to update us on their hotel scouting operation. It is odd to send out two people with Anthropology Ph.D. to find hotel rooms and talk to government officials so that no one gets suspicious as we land into various villages to give our interviewers field training. But that is the hallmark of the IHDS group; we all seem to doing everything and discovering hidden talents. I have become remarkably good at manipulating Adobe Acrobat to collate and format questionnaire pages and Deepa who was hired as an administrative assistant has become a great interviewer while pretesting the questionnaires. The rest of the IHDS team is assembled at NCAER even though it is Saturday and not a working day.  Around noon Deepa came by to remind me that it is Poonam’s birthday and we are serving Samosas and Gulab Jamuns to celebrate.  

     In the middle of this hum of activity, the printer called. How on earth the NCAER procurement process managed to find a printer who has keen appreciation of social science research, I will never know!  But it so happens that our competitive bidding produced a printer who was raised in the compound of Institute of Economic Growth where his father worked and refers to economists whose names I use with great owe as Uncle. He has put up with our investable dithering and changes in questionnaires until last moment with great patience and has worked hard to ensure that sufficient quantity of questionnaires are available for training and delivered the stack on Saturday evening with 12 hours to spare before we all take off for Lucknow. OP Sharma marshaled his army of supervisors who are hand carrying these precious bundles to Lucknow.  Of course next week NCAER will be flooded with over a 100,000 questionnaires of various ilk in Hindi and English with regional language questionnaires to follow.

     Some day I will complain about the sheer physical drudgery of our survey process, but right now, I can only marvel at the ingenious group of people behind IHDS-II.


18-September 2011 7:45 PM

© Sonalde Desai 2012