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Researchers overcoming many challenges during fieldwork

GKO research in Philippines Research teams studying children's use of the internet in the Philippines are traveling to remote communities to gather evidence for a national survey which aims to look at the risks and opportunities of ICT's for children.

(11 September 2017) UNICEF Philippines, in collaboration with researchers at De La Salle University, is currently undertaking a national survey of child internet use based on the ‘Global Kids Online’ cross-national research toolkit methodology. The research follows a successful pilot study in 2016. A total of 144 field researchers are carrying out data collection across the country. In order to ensure young children's engagement, emphasis was placed on hiring young researchers with whom children would find it easier to establish rapport.

In some cases, the fieldwork researchers have to undertake great efforts to reach secluded areas. For ensuring their safety, as well as to have a gender balance, there is a buddy-system in place in which one male and one female interviewer work and travel together. In terms of equipment, each team member received a waterproof bag for the tablet and printed surveys as back-up.

[Read the Global Kids Online Research Synthesis, 2016]

“We are trying to do fieldwork site visits and monitor the progress of the fieldwork and the work of the survey interviewers,” said Maria Margarita Ardivilla, of UNICEF Philippines. “This is important so that we can get an understanding of the perspective on the ground and help to address issues as they arise.”

“This provided a space in which the field researchers and the members of the Research Board can process and talk about concerns from the field which proved to be an enriching experience for everyone involved. As some of the enumerators work under hard circumstances trying to reach hard to access places, seeing core members of the Research Board boosted their morale.”

Researchers are taking a phased approach to the study: the preparatory phase (then undertaken with the University of the Philippines and the Philippines National Institutes of Health) included working on the research protocol and obtaining ethical approval; the second phase entailed conducting the pilot study in 2016; and the final third phase now includes conducting a nationally representative study with children aged 9-17 and their parents.

Considering the sensitivity of some of the questions, particularly related to child sexual exploitation, all researchers received an extensive 4-day training prior to commencing the fieldwork. Training sessions were organized by the De La Salle University’s Social Research Development Centre where the research team, including UNICEF, Council for the Welfare of Children and Stairway Foundation, discussed and practiced utilization of standardized, accurate, sensitive and safe techniques for implementing the survey.

The training programme included: 1) children’s rights and child safeguarding principles and protection protocols; 2) development and personality of children; 3) a participatory approach to reviewing the Global Kids Online toolkit, the tablet use and questionnaire application, including interview techniques; 4) discussion of key issues related to children’s internet use; 5) ethical considerations when conducting research with children; 6) role plays; and 7) a mock survey. UNICEF Philippines also required a Research Advisory Board to be created by the academic institution where members are from critical national agencies such as the Departments of Social Welfare and Development, Justice and Information and Communications Technology from government, NGOs, and sectoral representatives from the youth and LGBT organizations.

A school girl takes a ‘selfie’ with her smartphone at St. Francis of Assisi School, while other students check their smartphones after classes in the Central Visayas city of Cebu, Philippines.

The study aims to cover as many regions as possible, but some ongoing conflicts pose challenges for the team. The declaration of Martial Law in Mindanao initially raised concerns on whether social preparation and the actual survey would be affected, and whether the personal safety of the data collectors could be ensured. Having addressed the challenges, the fieldwork in Mindanao was able to commence but red flags remain in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). This is a fragile region with pockets of armed conflicts and the team is currently seeking dispensation from the Ethical Review Board of De La Salle University to allow the inclusion of the ARMM as a site for the study. During the time of writing, it was reported to UNICEF Philippines that the De La Salle University continued the field survey in Mindanao with facilitation where some of the randomly selected area had a 100% response rate. Notably, in Metro Manila, children living in gated communities also proved hard to recruit, despite intensive social preparation.

At present, 2,250 child respondents are identified to be surveyed. The quantitative survey will be followed by a qualitative workshop for results validation and to afford children the platform to express in more depth their experiences and thoughts about their opportunities and risks in the digital environment.

The Global Kids Online survey in Philippines is made possible through the technical support of UNICEF Innocenti, London School of Economics, and the shared programmatic commitment on child online protection of UNICEF Philippines and Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

(The original version of this article was written by Maria Margarita Ardivilla of UNICEF Philippines and published on 17 August 2017 on www.globakidsonline.net. It has been edited slightly for re-publication here.)