By Edward Appleton

 Managing multi-national research is invariably about juggling organization, co-ordination across different global time-zones.

Fieldwork is, let’s say, running almost concomitantly in Beijing, Sao Paolo and Chicago – so that’s +11 hours between China and Brasil…. The knock-ons are not always pleasant – a “global” telecon at 5.30 a.m?? Yikes….

The pressures to manage complex truly global projects – align recruitment, quotas, personally review a discussion guide over the phone point by point, review and discussion translation issues of stimulus materials…. – are significant, and require a special approach.

Some agencies respond by essentially out-sourcing this aspect of fieldwork co-ordination to people who by choice work at night, or at unusual times. For others this is a luxury. The project manager has to find their own support network – in both a professional and personal sphere. Work has to fit in with many other competing, often even more rigid agendas – picking up the kids from school, for example.

Technology helps – but in our view smooth project management is helped more by a mixture of honesty, communication efficiency, intercultural sensitivity, and a nurturing of the value of the face-to-face channel.

Let’s start with intercultural aspects. Communication responsiveness is often driven by culture – ticking all the boxes, answering absolutely all the questions in one go isn’t necessarily a given across the globe. This can cost you an added day, or two – immensely frustrating if you’ve not planned for it, but building in a day or two for a Latino-style operational fluidity helps. Apologies here for cultural stereotypes – no offence intended 😉

Being totally honest (or as near as possible….) about your personal reality is another major success factor: where you’ll be phoning from, what likely interruptions you anticipate (kids may start screaming….). Sounds basic? Well, many people still struggle with this notion as seeming somehow unprofessional – we disagree. 24/7 isn’t a dictate for people becoming like non-stop working machines.

Face-to-face interaction, and the nurturing of personal relationships is also critical at all levels of a project – perhaps even more so in an era of digital overload, spam. The value of face-to-face is huge if managed well – but it’s not always understood. Finding a way to convey this credibly to numbers-driven stakeholders is important. An added flight to Texas? Sure – to personally execute or observe in-home ethnographies can be invaluable if that’s a key market.

Finally, documenting in writing and sharing swiftly is a traditional, basic but powerful practice. Again, this might seem a no-brainer; but remember, many cultures are more orally driven, “relaxed” – which in a chain of decision making can seem initially charming but less so when something actually falls between the cracks, details get forgotten or lost.

Overall, it’s about harnessing technology to personal flexibility – re-thinking your day to use a gap of say 30 minutes you may have at whatever time, wherever you may be.

And if you have an employer, finding a way to make sure (s)he understands why you didn’t show up until midday the next morning 😉

English: A Language Barrier?!

Language is a fundamental aspect to intercultural understanding – one could write a book on how much gets lost in translation….

Maybe one point coming from a native English speaker that isn’t so often mentioned: it can actually be a disadvantage.

Native English speakers tend to speak relatively fast, using vocabulary that isn’t widely known. Those in the group who are less fluent can lose the flow – or feel overawed. They say less.

Having a non-native moderator slows things down in a positive sense, resulting in many more questions probing understanding – “what do you mean by….” “what is the word for….”

It also allows moderators to play with their own cultural identity more humorously – introducing the concept openly of say the moderator being a Norwegian or a German and confessing to their own linguistic weaknesses in English helps surface culturally submerged thoughts in a light-hearted, self-reflective manner. Everyone is on the same playing-field – moderators level with participants and vice versa.

Edward Appleton, Happy Thinking People