1.4.1 The four key questions

What are we trying to do?

The first question is to establish the purpose and goals . Every initiative decides on what it will do and what kinds of outcomes it intends to produce. Defining the purpose of an initiative publicly identifies what the initiative is about. Defining specific goals helps an initiative stay on track, and an EAR researcher can evaluate whether these goals are being reached. Through evaluation, these goals can be used to assess whether an initiative has been successful. In other words, goals describe what should happen as a result of the initiative doing its work.

How are goals defined? Usually everyone involved or affected - the stakeholders - have a view on what they think the goals of an initiative should be. Potential stakeholders could include:

  • Community members
  • Funding agencies
  • Government agencies
  • Community organisations
  • Private companies

Many initiatives will have goals defined for them by their funding agency, such as those that focus on poverty reduction or those associated with the UN Millennium Development Goals. Whether or not these goals are achieved may depend on whether other stakeholders agree with these goals. Goals therefore need to be clearly defined and negotiated amongst the different stakeholders. If all of those involved in the initiative are also involved in discussions around the purpose and goals, and they understand them, they are more likely to work towards achieving them.

How are we trying to do it?

The second question refers to how an initiative is trying to achieve its goals in its day-to-day operations. It requires an awareness of:

  • Its own practices
  • The ways in which it is attempting to achieve its purpose and goals on a day-to-day basis, as an organisation, and in relation to stakeholders, including the communities it seeks to serve
  • An awareness of its own internal structures and systems, including the ways in which it uses its resources

How well are we doing?

The third question demands a realistic and researched evaluation of how an initiative is working to achieve its goals, through reflection and self-awareness, and through researching those whom it seeks to have an impact upon.

Ethnographic Action Research will probe and uncover how well an initiative is doing according to local communities, local users, initiative staff and volunteers, donors and other external agencies.

EAR allows an initiative to evaluate how well it is doing against defined goals.

How can we do it differently/better?

Informed by research findings, the fourth question requires a re-evaluation of the stated purpose and goals, a review of processes and practices, and an analysis of effectiveness, achievements and shortfalls. It requires renewed planning and actions that will draw on the research, reflection and evaluation undertaken and improve the overall effectiveness of the initiative.

It will take into account the resources an initiative has access to and others it may be able to access. This whole process should allow for the development and ongoing adjustment of short, medium and long term plans.

These four key questions must be asked periodically by everyone involved in an initiative if it wants to maintain its local relevance in terms of responding to local needs and community expectations, and keep improving. In answering them, an EAR researcher will be effectively researching and developing the ICT initiative. Beyond these general questions there are more specific questions that will need to be asked as the initiative evolves. The processes laid out in this Ethnographic Action Research handbook will assist EAR researchers in asking these key questions and in defining more specific questions appropriate to each ICT initiative and its purpose.