Fellow Spotlight: Tara Stafford 2010 Multi-Country Research Fellow Project Manager, Columbia University Project: Participation Through Literacy: How monitoring and evaluation efforts measure the impact literacy learning has on the social change in West Africa and Bangladesh Countries: Senegal, Ghana, & Bangladesh
Why did you apply for the Multi-Country Research Fellowship? I was getting my Masters in Comparative and International Education and developed a keen interest in adult literacy programs for their potential to transform communities. The Fellowship seemed like a perfect opportunity to experience the programs in action and to conduct a comparative analysis of programs being implemented in different contexts in order to contribute ideas for how the programs could better demonstrate their effectiveness and value to global audiences, particularly potential partners.
Which centers did you affiliate with? The West African Research Center and the American Institute for Bangladesh Studies.
Did you have any unexpected discoveries in the field? I was always surprised and delighted by how warmly the learning groups greeted me, a stranger in their midst. The leadership qualities and methods of organization that many of the women facilitators of the learning groups possessed and employed were impressive beyond what I expected. On the other hand, one of the government-led programs I studied demonstrated poor management of resources, missing many opportunities for bigger impacts.
How did affiliating with the Overseas Research Centers impact your work? I was able to get in touch with representatives from the Ministry of Education in Senegal and organize field visits more easily than I would have been able to without that connection. I also spent a lot of time in the library at the West African Research Center writing and combing through documents.
What surprised you most about the countries you visited? Because I was studying a certain method of adult literacy implementation (the Reflect method), many of the programs had similarities, but I was surprised by how consistently the method was implemented in the three countries I visited. Of course, each organization had different kinds of trainings and monitoring practices that they employed, but the learning groups themselves conducted themselves in surprisingly similar ways.
What was the most challenging aspect of your research? The language barrier. When working with the NGO and government workers I met, it was fine, but when I was with the learners, most only spoke the local dialects, and so I had to understand all that was being said through translation.
How did your project change over the course of your fellowship? For many reasons, I became less interested in advocating for more emphasis on social change impacts for attracting donors, and more interested in using that kind of data to attract partnerships that could help these organizations sustain themselves through business models rather than aid models. Many of the organizations I worked with employed skills trainings in addition to literacy learning, and so I began to see much opportunity for small business investment partnerships that could enable the organizations implementing the programs to become self-sustaining, therefore embodying more closely the philosophies that the method I was studying aims to instill in the learners.
What aspects of your research did you enjoy the most? The opportunity to travel to such wonderful places to learn and meet such inspiring people! It was truly an incredible, unforgettable experience for which I am very grateful.
How will the Multi award impact your future research? In my current research position with the Earth Institute at Columbia University, though our project is in a different area related to education, the methods of participatory teaching, learning, and evaluating are instilled in me, and I try to be critical of my own practices to ensure that we conduct our project in a way that values the contributions of all project stakeholders.
Do you have any advice for future Multi fellows? Definitely take advantage of the networks at the Centers, and take advantage of the opportunity by spending as much time in each place as possible. As a foreign researcher, it’s too easy to overlook the nuances of what’s going when not enough time is spent. Enjoy!
CAORC fellowships for multi-country research are funded by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the United States Department of State.