It was March 2020 when COVID-19 began to turn the world upside down. I came home early from Bangladesh, when we had an on-going research project that was stopped immediately. This was followed by a mandatory 21 days of self-quarantine all alone in my apartment. It was a difficult situation for everyone.
While I was stuck in quarantine, surprisingly my ‘dad’ from one of our previous immersion studies in West Sumatra texted me, “Hey Riz, how are you? I saw the news about the COVID situation in Jakarta and we worry about you...” I did not realise that a text can be very powerful during those stressful times. I called him back. That day we spent hours talking about the condition both in Jakarta and in his village, and we wished for each other's safety.
When Empatika then decided that we wanted researchers to try and check-in with families from previous studies, I was more than happy to keep in touch with this family in Pasaman along with contacting some of my other previous study families. Through these initial conversations Empatika then had an opportunity to continue these check-ins through a full longitudinal study. Along with over 10 other Empatika researchers, we would each stay in touch with families from all over Indonesia throughout the first year of the pandemic. This post is a sample of some of the insights and a taste of the connections we developed.
(Empatika senior researcher Rizqan, who interacted with three families in three different provinces as part of this study)
Keeping in Touch with People's Experiences of the COVID-19 Pandemic
Our longitudinal remote insights gathering study finished its last round, focused on livelihoods and social assistance, in February 2021. From the insights gained over the nine month study period we produced three in-depth briefs and a summary brief, in addition to an initial brief from the early listening stage of the study and are hoping to be able to share these reports soon! This study aims to bring faces, stories, and highlight local perspectives into how families and other people across Indonesia have been dealing with changes and uncertainty during the pandemic, in both urban and rural contexts. The pandemic situation also gave us an opportunity for us to experiment with remote approaches and tools to qualitative research. Utilising the pre-existing relationships that Empatika researchers have with a variety of families across Indonesia, the study included a total of 45 families in 23 districts of Indonesia*. Over the study period families have shared their ongoing stories.
Built on trust, experimenting with remote tools
Our researchers knew the study participant families from previous immersion and other qualitative studies conducted between 2015 to 2020 when we had the opportunity to spend time with families in their own homes and their communities. This meant good existing rapport and relationships between researchers and families which provided a basis for open and trusted interactions. It also meant that researchers were familiar with the different contexts of these communities.
During the study, researchers made regular phone calls, texts, and had other remote interactions with families over the study period. Based on families' main concerns from the listening phase of the study, over the following three rounds of data collection we conversed about livelihoods and social assistance; education (including learning and social lives of children); and health. We complemented phone conversations and text messaging with other data gathering tools—our first experience using remote tools—including photo, audio and video sharing; group chats and discussions; and visual and story prompts. For example, texting with families through Whatsapp, we shared photos related to COVID-19 including from our own lives to ignite conversations and asked them to send back photos to us about the situation in their communities. With university students from different study locations, a few researchers formed a WhatsApp group to discuss together their multiple experiences and the challenges that they are facing during this pandemic. Some families recorded their own voice notes or videos from the prompt questions we provided. These tools were guided by thematic areas of conversations which were tailored and updated to each in-depth topic focus for each round of the study.
To situate the study insights, for the final summary brief we also prepared a timeline (shown below) which shows the context and influence of some of the policy responses of the Government of Indonesia alongside people’s concerns and changes that were happening in the study communities over the study period. These government responses included mobility and travel restrictions or suspensions, the closure of public services such as schools, village-level health facilities and posyandu sessions, along with the disbursement of emergency social assistance. Perceptions about these policies were also discussed with families throughout the study.
The following are some of the key insights from the study across the three primary topics:
Livelihoods and Social Assistance
Learning and Social Lives of Children
Health and Hygiene
Empatika was supported by UNICEF Indonesia to conduct this longitudinal study, expanding on our initial work early on in the pandemic in reaching out to families across the country about their experiences.
We will be sharing some additional reflections from this study in a couple of follow-up posts soon.
*These 45 families live in 21 rural communities and 6 periurban/urban communities. Including study participant families along with other community members, participants of the study included 67 school aged children, 11 teachers, 25 health workers, 8 village officers, and more than 100 community members.
**Puskesmas are sub-district level public health clinics.
***Posyandu is a monthly healthcare session in villages and communities which primarily aims to support pregnant women and mothers of children under five in providing health support, information, and counseling.