This American Life = Ethnographic Research

Today, I finished wrapping up a long good weekend by listening to This American Life.  The segment I listened to was on "Gossip" and it shared so many parallels with design and ethnographic research.  Act I was about Gossip, AIDS, and Malawi. The segment critically proved how vital design research is in providing effective NGOs and programs for people. Here is a little blurb from the website:

In Malawi, in southeast Africa, not gossiping can be worse than gossiping. Sarah interviews a young Malawian woman named Hazel Namandingo, who explains that because so many people have HIV and AIDS in Malawi, they often rely on gossip to figure out who's safe to date or marry. It turns out this kind of gossip is the basis for a huge research project about AIDS in Malawi. For 10 years, a sociologist named Susan Watkins has been collecting journals filled with gossip about AIDS. Watkins hired local people to write the journals—to just listen to what people were saying in their communities about the virus, and then write it down. What Watkins learned from reading them bucked much of the conventional wisdom about how rural Africans were dealing with the epidemic. (Plus, they're really entertaining.)

There's a U Penn website that explains the Malawi Journals Project. And an NGO in Malawi called Invest in Knowledge has catalogued the journals.

I deeply encourage anyone who has the time to listen. Susan Watkins' research is so natural and intrinsic it is amazing how often innitiatives, much like hers, are overlooked. Smart and simple research is better than lots of research.

Listen Here.