Stocked up with vegetables (my favorite) and Justin with Kebabs (his favorite), we left early on the day after training for Lankaran, the southern district of Azerbaijan bordering Iran. Our interpreter set up various meetings with the leaders of NGOs, youth leaders, teachers, religious leaders, businessmen in the tourism industry, and other persons who were pertinent to our project.
Our first two meetings took place at a lovely hotel which rested on the border of the Caspian Sea. Armed with my laptop and able to view the data and analytics in near real-time, I was quickly able to better understand the community dynamics of the Azerbaijani people and it proved to be an eye opening experience. Because the feedback loops in the Impl. Project methodology are so rapid, we were able to easily adapt, give real-time feedback to our enumerators, and make adjustments to our strategy quickly and easily.
While the enumerators gathered quantitative data, Justin and I first met with a teacher and youth leader of an NGO in order to begin our qualitative data collection. Justin was evidently seasoned in guiding the interview process and skilfully making distinctions between the symptoms of a problem and the underlying causes of it, as well as teasing this information out of interviews and focus group participants.
The responses from all of the interviewees were enlightening. I would never have been able to comprehensively understand the details and the underlying causes of grievances had I simply searched online or observed on my own. This encouraged me to look at communities around the world with an entirely different perspective.
It became rapidly apparent that the life and viewpoint that I have in a place can be completely different from another person living in the same country. It seems obvious and simple to write and discuss, as though it is basic knowledge that everyone should have, yet, when I think about international development, I realized that many times other people tend to assume the problems of others and create solutions that they think might work. Learning about these mistakes and trying to mitigate them theoretically seemed simple, but in reality these same mistakes are made over and over again in international development.
Our first interviewee spoke about unemployment, corruption, and lack of job opportunities.I was ready to hear something similar from the second interviewee, however, I was again surprised to hear a completely different narrative. Our second interview was with a religious leader. He spoke about geopolitics, influence, and the vulnerability of youths to religious extremism. His narrative held very few similarities from the first interview, but were just as relevant in understanding the dynamics of Lankaran and Azerbaijan as a whole.
After a tedious day of driving plus two lengthy interviews, Justin and I were exhausted. We had team members in two other regions in the north and we kept in frequent contact, updating each other every few hours. Furthermore, Justin and I routinely communicated with our enumerators in Lankaran and checked on their locations and progress online through our data collection platform.