The past month has probably been the most exciting (and busy!) of the entire fieldwork. After spending a lot of time meeting entrepreneurs and introducing ourselves in Kariobangi, we realized that we achieved the greatest of our goals: entrepreneurs started to trust us and our project – doors started to gradually open up for the collection of (what looks like) really good data. Ah, the greatest joy for a researcher!
We were not that confident a few months back; we realized that in a context of informality and semi-formality like Kariobangi, entrepreneurs aren’t always willing to share private info with us. Sloppy data collection will easily get us trapped in the infamous GIGO rule “garbage in, garbage out”: no matter what fancy econometric techniques we use, if the data is inaccurate, our work has no chance but being garbage. That’s when we decided not to rush in filling up questionnaires and to make several pre-visits to get to know the entrepreneurs and their business. It was worth investing the time.
We also realized that within our sample, semi-formal businesses complying with some (but not all) government regulations are more afraid to share information than the very informal businesses, which comply with no legal requirements. Last week, an entrepreneur of a semi-formal business made this point quite clearly:
It can be riskier to comply with some regulations than not complying at all. Informal self-employment is generally tolerated by the authorities. They say it alleviates poverty and it helps people to make an income. But as soon as you try to expand your business and to become a little more ‘formal’, problems start coming. Having a ‘Semi-formal’ business – as you call it – can be risky. The moment you try to expand is the moment you start being worried about people asking questions