Dr. Kabamalan documents experiences, lessons from conducting nationwide fieldwork amid COVID-19
Social scientists around the world have had to grapple with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on data collection. In the case of the UP Population Institute (UPPI), it had to modify its plans for the conduct of the 2021 Young Adult Fertility and Sexuality Study (YAFS5), said UPPI professor and YAFS5 project coordinator Dr. Maria Midea Kabamalan, who presented the highlights of YAFS5 fieldwork at the 2022 Philippine Population Association (PPA) Scientific Virtual Conference held last March 30-31, 2022.
With face masks on, a YAFS5 field enumerator interviews a youth respondent in Ifugao.
Bringing together population experts and related practitioners all over the country, the first virtual conference by the PPA carried the theme “Dealing with the "New Normal": Understanding COVID 19 through a demographic lens.”
During the conference’s fourth session on conducting demographic research during COVID-19, Dr. Kabamalan shared that plans for the YAFS5 were drawn up as early as the late quarter of 2018. “When we were planning for the YAFS5, never did we imagine that we will be implementing it during a pandemic.”
As the COVID-19 virus raged throughout the world, however, the UPPI and regional field staff had to adapt to the public health situation and reconfigure several aspects of the study, said Dr. Kabamalan, who had also been part of previous YAFS rounds. Foremost, YAFS5 questions not only had to be updated but also reconfigured to reflect the impact of the pandemic and lockdown on young people’s lives, including behavioral changes during such an unusual time.
Additionally, face-to-face activities were restricted, and so stakeholder consultation and crowdsourcing of questions had to be done online. A first for a nationwide project, the UPPI also adopted a hybrid setup for the training, with discussions held online and the use of tablets and field practice necessarily done face-to-face. This entailed adjustments in terms of budget, logistics, and timeframe, as well as the provision of personal protective equipment for field staff.
Dr. Kabamalan also noted that the usual issues encountered in the field remained, such as public transportation, but these were compounded by COVID-19. What stood out from the YAFS5 experience, however, was the support shown by government agencies and local government units in the conduct of field activities. The UPPI professor particularly cited the assistance given by the Department of Health, Commission on Population and Development, and the Department of Interior and Local Government in facilitating the data collection.
While another pandemic is certainly not being anticipated, Dr. Kabamalan pointed out that the documented experiences from YAFS5 can guide future field activities under similar extraordinary circumstances.
“Flexibility is key, but we have to ensure that we follow proper sampling procedures and do not compromise the quality of the data,” she added.
Dr. Kabamalan responds to questions during the PPA Conference.