Are informal institutions obstacles for researchers to overcome, or can they be enablers for research—as well as important subjects to be studied in and of themselves? We argue first that acquiring knowledge about informal institutions and the organizations in which they are embedded is integral to devising relevant research questions. Second, scholars who understand informal institutions can better identify and reach the appropriate population for their intended study. Third, they should avoid relying on one set of informal institutions, organizations, or patrons; instead, they need to know when to plug into which informal networks. Fourth, when chosen appropriately, local collaborators embedded in informal institutions and organizations can provide social incentives, thereby encouraging local research teams to work diligently and to not defect from agreements.
Cancian, Matthew and Kristin E. Fabbe. “`You Don’t Know What You’re Getting Into’: Dealing with Dishonesty in the Field,” in An Unorthodox Guide to Fieldwork, ed. Ora Szekely and Peter Krause (Columbia University Press, 2020).
Trust but verify! While survey data is a powerful way for us to understand political phenomena, the process of conducting a survey is messy. Scholars are vulnerable to paying for data that is allegedly collected in a certain area and in a certain way, but is in fact gathered at a convenient central location or even manufactured wholesale. Electronic tools should be used by all researchers to monitor their survey enumerators and be able to prove afterwards that the survey was collected as intended. Survey software like Qualtrics can record valuable metadata, such as the time elapsed for each survey. Sharing photos of enumerators in action over WhatsApp can be both fun and provide early warning of malfeasance. GPS location, where cell service is available, provides a way to allow scholars to conduct unannounced site inspections. Setting up these precautions in advance will save scholars from being taken for a ride when conducting surveys in the field.
We show a statistically significant and quantitatively meaningful decline in the aptitude of commissioned officers in the Marine Corps from 1980 to 2014 as measured by their scores on the General Classification Test. This result contrasts with the widely studied increase in the quality of enlisted personnel since 1973 when conscription ended. As a possible cause for this decline, we focus on the fact that, during this period, marine officers had to have a 4-year college degree and there has been an expansion of the pool of young Americans in college. To corroborate this hypothesis, we show that there has been a similar decline in scores on the Armed Forces Qualification Test for responders to the 1979 and 1997 National Longitudinal Surveys of Youth among college graduates but not for the overall set of respondents.