It’s true, I’ve been putting off this post.  In fact, for the last three days, I’ve sat with just that first sentence blinking at me from an otherwise blank document.  It has seemed lately like tying up one loose end just makes another.  The wiki and research narrative have especially been hard to call finished.  But it’s time to stop dragging my feet, and to take a stab at summing up my summer research project.

To recap starting from the beginning: the trip to Nicaragua was a resounding success, due to the kind support from the folks behind Chappell, the resilient team members who kept us rolling in country, and especially my amazing translator Gabi, who climbed up and slid down every mountain with me in search of interviews.

Processing the data was a lengthy job involving many curse words directed at SPSS, but finally, I ran tests and illustrated conclusions in a format that will be accessible and useful to the MANOS team.  I have no doubt that the information gathered about communication from this project, especially in relation to gender and geography, will inform the trajectory and tone of the team’s research in the years to come.  For example, the correlation discovered between geography and someone in a household holding an official position (representative to the municipal government, religious leader, health worker, etc.) had a .000 significance coefficient (meaning there the probability that the existing relationship between the two variables is due to chance is .000), which illustrates a strong relationship between the two variables that team members will need to keep in mind when trying to ensure communications reach both leaders and those on the outskirts of the community.  Working on these data also provided an important opportunity to learn more about conducting social science research from Dr. Aday, who pushed me to think about research questions in a more systematic and thorough way, while never settling for my “computer magic” and “some kind of math-iness” explanations.

The social network analysis also pushed me to new research limits.  I learned how to run several new tests, explored current use of SNA techniques in the literature, and gained a deeper understanding of how to use SNA as a tool to understand real world social structures.  Some examples of this tool can be applied practically to a project would be how the network analysis can help identify which community members are perceived as potential leaders for future projects, and which might best act as ‘bridges’ to enhance communication with isolated family groups.

Both the research narrative and the wiki, projects that are still in motion, have already made the transfer of information throughout the team easier.  The research narrative now collects interview schedules, data tables, and analyzed results from the last 4 years in one place, with a cohesive story to give context to all the names and numbers.  Just in putting the narrative together, I learned more about past trips than from any other technique or setting.  I’m sure that just as soon as the last few links get added into the narrative and posted on the wiki, it will begin to help educate new members against the mistakes of our past.

Overall, this summer research experience has been more valuable than I could have anticipated.  I know I’ve learned not only about communication in Cuje, but also about social science research methods and the larger techniques of research in general.  Bringing this knowledge back to the team (with the help of the wiki!) has also clarified the true end goal of this entire process.  Now MANOS is just a little bit wiser and that much closer to implementing a community-sustained health project in Cuje.