Social fieldwork takes many forms and goes by many names such as community-based participatory research. Social fieldwork strengthens public decision-making with verifiable, unbiased, research-driven real local input.
Research can and must be done by local people as well as professionals employed by labs, universities, nonprofits, contractors or government.
Ultimately no matter who does the fieldwork, it is fieldwork. Fieldwork is an out-and-about, boots-on-the-ground kind of research.
Social fieldwork is the art and science of observation in a social setting.
Social fieldwork is research “for and by the people.” It is “the people’s research.”
Local people can do this work with or without staff support from government or nonprofits.
Social fieldwork is a means for accessing what is real and authentic in our lives. This kind of research unveils deep rich stories, narrative and description of what we share in common.
Social fieldwork provides an approach and tools for establishing better public policy informed by lived experience rather than the economic script and reductionist views regarding quality of life.
Social fieldwork is scientific research encompassing a wide-range of modalities.
Social fieldwork emphasizes lived experience and the direct encounter. It involves direct observation of local conditions without the preconception of a priori questionnaires, academic research questions, surveys and more. It is exploratory.
Social fieldwork is comprised of many wide ranging research strategies including: Sociocultural Research, Place-Based Research, Ethnography, Community-Based Participatory Action Research, Action Inquiry and Participatory Video.
Real Local Input and Social Fieldwork
Social fieldwork is the only way to obtain verifiable input equitably across the spectrum of local inhabitants.
Real local input is on-the-ground, place-based, real-time and community-driven.
Public Involvement and Community Engagement
In making public decisions, public involvement is mandated. Unfortunately, public involvement is often no more than public relations.
We can no longer rely on random input at town meetings, emotional pleas, disjointed analysis of global trends, catchy political slogans and topical sociometrics to govern our way forward.
We need social field research beyond vocal town meetings, listening sessions, openhouses and surveys. We need more than rote textbook overviews of our socioeconomics, demographics, psychographics and sociometrics.
Assessment of Proposed Action or Existing Program
How can we make sure real local input is reflected in Environmental Impact Statements and as the foundation for public decision makers including our electeds? We need to open the doors wide on our understanding of ourselves. We need tools for defining in concrete terms what we are about, what we want and don’t want and what we would like to defend in community.
We need to focus our attention on establishing a baseline of community indicators as a way of evaluating ecosystem and community projects. Local input is needed to calibrate outcomes and establish results.
We can provide participatory evaluation of stated outcomes with with Social Fieldwork. The following forms of claims-making could be more accurately assessed with social fieldwork.
– Environmental Impact Statements and NEPA;
– Fair Trade And other certification;
– Claims made by nonprofits and land trusts; and,
– Claims made by corporate interests.
If we were to take this quite a ways further, we could even potentially evaluate the simplest claims embedded in religion or ideology. Political jargon is oftentimes meaningless because it has no ground.
Social Fieldwork in Action
Social fieldwork is community engagement but with deeper roots. It is a form of community engagement conducted by going outside and talking to people.
Staff, contractors and researchers can do it alongside locals. They would need to go to where people gather informally rather than expect them to come to formal settings to respond to a predetermined script. It is informal and ad hoc research.
To do social fieldwork, you go out into the landscape or community and talk with people or help people talk together.
You gather up words, visuals and sound to describe our experience. You take notes and tell stories.
You can take photos or film videos to explain the sociocultural attributes that sustain quality of life. How can you best portray in the words of local people their stories and how they measure happiness as a community and in their landscape?
You might gather materials of the community or the natural world to better tell your story. You can make recordings or even create art.
Get togethers after the community picnic? Or finding time in an evening each week? Or a group that meets every Sunday at end of day. You could get together, direct information and talking about that information in community groups
The Iterative and Adaptive Cycle of Social Fieldwork
In the form promoted by Economics for Peace Institute, Social fieldwork is about discovering and exploring our humanity in relationship to others in our man made world and with the natural world. It is about what makes us happy in community and individually.
The essence of this social fieldwork research is observation, note taking and making sense of it all. There are numerous ways to do this. The Guild resource base will provide practical tools for each step.
Social fieldwork strengthens community engagement or public involvement in two ways:
First, do the field Research; and,
Second, talking about it, making sense of it, creating recommendations. These recommendations may take many form including establishing a community consensus on indicators for a baseline of wellness or quality of life.
If for the purposes of community planning or an Environmental Impact Statement, is critical to ensure that summaries are codified succinctly and cross-checked with other researchers to ensure a neutral representative voice. Verification in community by consensus or majority would also be necessary. Learning to listen well in groups and make good decisions is a fundamental skill in democracy and much needs to be done to improve community capacity to do this well.
Fieldwork as research involves maintaining rigorous records to later analyze systematically in order to derive verifiable conclusions. In the form of fieldwork we promote, participatory research, information is then presented back to the community for authentication, verification and refinement. We can conduct fieldwork to better inform ourselves if we do so with observational discipline and sound group dialogue.
The essence of this research is observation, note taking and making sense of it all. There are numerous ways to do this. The Guild resource base will provide practical tools for each step.
You’ll want to If you are telling the story of someone or a community, you check back with those in the story to make sure you have it right.
How can you identify and describe your own sociocultural experiences outside the mainstream? How could bring people together to start establishing indicators for your own community?
The answer: We need more social field research beyond vocal town meetings, listening sessions, openhouses and surveys. We need more than rote textbook overviews of our socioeconomics, demographics, psychographics and sociometrics.
This document is a working draft. Pardon our mess.