Written by Anita Sharma, Vice President

A baker on the market street in Zaatari

In research, it’s usually pretty important to have a script. Scripts, often questionnaires or focus group discussion guides, make our work easier and more efficient by making sure we’re asking the right questions and getting the answers we need while maintaining consistency among participants. But on a recent trip to Jordan, I was reminded that collecting data goes beyond a script: it’s just as important to adapt, observe, and listen.

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, invited Lucy Jenkins, our communications partner at Weber Shandwick, and me to see their on-the-ground operations in Jordan (read Lucy’s blog post here). The conflict in Syria – now almost four years in – has forced millions of refugees to flee their homes. Many of those forced to flee now live in Jordan, in and around Amman and in two refugee camps, Zaatari and Azraq.

Two families saying goodbye after inviting us in.  (Azraq)

Two families saying goodbye after inviting us in (Azraq)

Our trip was one step in a larger global research and branding effort for the UN Refugee Agency, but it may have been the most valuable. In just a few days, we were fortunate enough to meet many UN Refugee Agency field staff and refugees. We planned to collect their insights via a simple iPad survey, but that was immediately scrapped when we realized that not only would most of our conversations require a translator, but the sensitivities surrounding the difficult situations of our participants demanded an approach that was more informal and ad hoc. Our conversations varied in length and were often impromptu as we drove from one spot to the next. A script of any sort – on paper or on an iPad – did not feel right. Despite this, our conversations were emotional, encouraging, eye-opening, extraordinary, grounding, remarkable, generous, and inspiring. In a word: rich.

Our branding mission to Jordan was, without a doubt, an exercise in qualitative, casual data collection. All of these conversations happened without a script, but they were just as accurate, authentic and actionable as the research we collected by fielding a multi-country survey or through in-depth interviews that did follow a script.

UNHCR staff catching up on camp life at Zaatari

UNHCR staff catching up on camp life at Zaatari