Useful planning tips for Field Work in Africa

Daylight Saving at Avebury Stone Circle:

Putting the clocks back 1 hour 

Compliments of the New Year! May 2019 meet and even exceed your wildest expectations!

The uptick in market research in Africa is fantastic. At Field Africa we are in a unique position of having dealt with the most sophisticated multi-national research agencies and brands in the world for over 20 years AND also having dealt with the 3rd world realities of a lot of the African continent and her inhabitants.

Quite often the 2 worlds seem to connect, and we would like to think that as mediators of sorts, we play a large part in this happening. However, there are those occasions where the 2 worlds collide in some spectacular fashion, and in literally almost all cases it could be avoided.

There are no sinister reasons for this at all, it is simply a case of (in most cases) misunderstood expectations.

These are our choice observations from in the field, based on 20+ years’ experience:

Things to bear in mind:

  • Africa does not use daylight savings.o   It can definitely impact flows of communications e.g. you send an urgent end of day email hoping for a quick response…. Except that the field team office in Africa has left for home 2 hours before….o   Plan for having flexi-hours staff who can work the overlap times both at home and in the field. 2 hours could save you a whole day!o   Let your African partners know a month, week, day and the day after each change forwards and backwards…. Especially if there is a project either due to start or end!
  • Africa field work is done by Africans with a distinctly African work cultureo   What more can be said without unwittingly being offensive…. Suffice to say that not only is African work culture very different in some respects to Western work cultures, but even across African countries the internal cultures are different.o   It can really impact you if you are very rigid, because it is very likely that when interacting with African offices that there is more ‘fluidity’ than ‘rigidity’. Hypertension is the enemy, don’t succumb to it, you need to pump the brakes a bit and chill.o   Maybe give your clients and end / due date with a 15% variance. Rather put it on the plate and plan for it, than overpromise and have circumstances beyond anyone’s control in Africa delay whatever aspects
  • There is no fully developed first world African economyo   South Africa is by far and away the most advanced in Africa
    o   It is a hybrid of advanced 1st World and developing 3rd Worldo   The rest of Africa are all classified as Developing and / or Frontier Marketso   You risk having an unrealistic set of expectations when you set standards aligned to your first world environment
  • TIA – This Is Africao   The three most important letters of your life if you decide to work in Africa. IT can explain a lot e.g.Q: Why is there no electricity for the past 3 days, we can’t upload any data?
    A: TIAQ: Why are no traffic lights working causing hours long delays?
    A: TIAQ: You said you had planned and organised for 100 interviews for today, but only 30 arrived. Why is this so?
    A: TIA

    Q: What does that mean?
    A: It means that 150 interviews were booked and confirmed, anticipating that 50 would drop out and leave us with 100

    Q: But only 30 arrived
    A: Exactly, because TIA. We over planned for the worst case, and the worst-case scenario was exceeded by over 50%… why? Because TIA.

    o   TIA basically means you do not control what happens on the continent. You can plan all you want, but at the end of the day, TIA and how it goes is how it goes, not how you tell it to go.

  • Africa shuts down for field workover December / January

    o   Summer holidays, major school holidays, large migrant workforce returning home for Christmas, etc, etco   Do not bank on running a project over the last 2 weeks of December and first 2 weeks of January. It can be done, but with no promises on delivery.
  • Do not ask ethnicity-based questions in Rwandao   The genocide of the 1990’s is still too fresh… its amazing how many people don’t remember. Don’t be one of them!
  • Do not use Google to answer your questions on Africao   Ok, get some answers, but when it comes to ‘on-the-ground’ knowledge, go with your African field work partners. Context and cultural subtleties are not in their algorithms book of trickso   Don’t walk into Africa with a printout guide from Google answers…. Please, for the love of all things good in life, do not do this. Get some local knowledge and then trust it over Google.
  • Do not use Google translate to translate scriptso   Again, Google doesn’t do context or have real life experience.o   Google translate amazingly turns English speakers into Swahili experts instantly. It just makes you look bad. Again, go with what the local knowledge tell you, not what Google tells you.
  • Believe it or not, but the weather does hamper communicationso   Of course there is Internet, its just not your Interneto   It’s not all fibre optics and / or 4G data….. ADSL is still big and even some dial up. Mobile data is very good in some places and in others, not so much
  • Africans are not the same at allo   54 Countries, 1,2 billion people and around 2000 languages spoken!o   In Nigeria about 500 languages are spokeno   There is no free movement, visa requirements vary from country to countryo   What works in one place does not necessarily translate to the next

We love Africa and we love all these things about Africa including what we just told you. We embrace her and live in the heartbeat of Africa. However, we understand that Africa could seem daunting. At the same time Africa is desirable, and so what you need is a partner to walk with you and guide you through your field work… And that so happens to be Field Africa, us!

With over 20 years in the game on the continent of Africa, with offices in 9 countries and a footprint in 22….. it’s safe to say that ‘We know Africa’.

Together we achieve more.

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