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#128 Triangulation

January 11, 2012

submitted by Aziza M.

There is nothing an Expat Aid Worker loves more than helping locals. But how can an EAW help without knowing which locals are deserving of their valuable time and resources?  That’s why before determining who the beneficiaries of a program are, an EAW must verify the stories they hear with the local chai wallah, fruit vendor, and/or goat-herder.  What is this rigorous and highly structured practice called?  Triangulation.

Tri-An-Gu-La-Tion! (photo: http://www.drjohnlatham.com)

Expat aid workers answer to wealthy, Western masters, er…, donors, who value ideals such as transparency and accountability.  What better way to uphold these values than by triangulating information from the field?

Sure, it may take a long time, require expensive quasi-reliable local translators (keep those receipts for reimbursement!), and the locals may have agreed to corroborate each other’s stories (the bush telegraph works fast), but nothing satisfies wealthy, Western donors more than knowing that EAWs made sure to hear a vaguely similar story from different sources. If only the local government took the time and care to triangulate information, they would be able to use their own resources much more efficiently.

Which brings us to our next point.  It’s common knowledge that the difference between “wanting to help” and “actually doing something” involves being strategic.  Triangulating information is an essential component of being strategic.

The question remains, though. How exactly does an EAW successfully engage in this laudable practice of triangulation?

When presented with information from a local, do not believe it on its own.  Take notes in your proudly tattered field notebook.  File a report.  Then, make an educated guess as to who in the community might also know about the topic at hand.  It helps to brainstorm potential sources for triangulating information with other EAWs.  This can be done over a meeting with appropriate EAW food such as finger sandwiches, donuts, and a large amount of coffee.  Other EAWs will be happy to engage in the activity and admire your drive to uphold the western practices and values that qualify you to help developing countries.

Now, it is possible that the EAWs at your brainstorming session will miss something. So to cover all your bases, ask that trusty language tutor, confidante, and source of faux-pas forgiveness… your driver.

Leaving the compound to dive deep into the recesses of the community may seem daunting, but the benefits definitely outweigh the risks.  In addition to an increase in both marriage proposals and opportunities to partake in symbolic local traditions, the time outdoors will allow you to work on your tan lines (the EAW mark of street cred) while you get the “real picture”.

For instant legitimacy; triangulate!

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