I’m about to go drive around Zomba District trying to nail down the local area where I’ll run my project. This is going to involve lots of challenges, many which you might expect: low-quality roads, multiple places with the same name, limited geographic data (I’ve got a nice map from the pros up at Malawi’s NSO, but even they have their limits), language barriers (I’m bringing an RA with me to help with that) and so forth. But perhaps the largest problem I’ll face is finding somewhere to do research where there aren’t already too many other past or current research projects going on, or too many NGOs or international organizations in the field. Malawi has a crazy density of research going on, and no small number of other development projects as well. To pick just the two most prominent examples here in Zomba District, the local area where I did my project last summer is home to one of the Millennium Villages, and some of my friends here in Zomba Town are working on the fairly massive Zomba Cash Transfers project, which is doing a long-run followup to see whether cash payments to girls in secondary school have beneficial effects, years later, on their kids.
All this is really cool, of course, but can pose problems for my research – I don’t want a sample that’s too saturated with other projects, since I want my results to be as generalizable as possible. Someday I’d like to make or find a world map showing the locations of development research, since anecdotally the patterns are very striking. I’d guess there are 20 studies in Kenya for every 1 in the Congo (DR) despite the latter having nearly double the population of the former.