Conversations on personal financial practices are sensitive and many times difficult for researchers to actualize in the field. As many researchers have documented, personal financial practices are private. Getting people to talk about them often times requires great effort. Adding culture to these conversations creates a further challenge that seems almost insurmountable. Yet, even with all of these challenges, it is essential to understand how culture influences mobile money practices if appropriate policies and programs are to be put in place.
|Participants during the Focus Group Discussion|
Stimulating conversations on money, control and culture
To get women micro-entrepreneurs conversing on these matters, we designed two charts: a static one (Fig. 1) which we used to prompt participants to think through their financial practices (without intervention on our part) and an interactive one (Fig. 3) which required participants to perform some activities. Our approach was inspired by the IMTFI Fellows workshop held at the IMTFI Insight and Impact Conference on April 22, 2016 and by object-centered interview methodologies featured in IMTFI’s Consumer Finance Research Methods Toolkit (the toolkit is free and available for download here).
|Fig 1: Mobile Money Services Chart|
|Fig 2: "Services used and|
After the exercise, we counted the sticky notes or plasticine mounds to determine who had the highest control of a particular resource, which we then discussed with participants. We also discussed how mobile money has influenced this control and explored gender dynamics in table banking group activities in this era of mobile money use. Interestingly, fathers and brothers no longer interfere with women’s control of productive resources, whether single or married. In addition, mobile money services have provided women with a discreet method of controlling finances.
|Fig 3: Productive Resources Control Chart|
Our experience in using Object-Centered Focus Group Discussions
This being our first time to use such a technique in data collection, we did not know what to expect. Much as the idea of using objects in Focus Group Discussions excited us, and of course we were looking forward to it, we were alive to the possibility that our ability to communicate to the participants through these charts might not work as we hoped. However, our anxieties were immediately settled as soon as we began the first session and observed the respondents’ excitement. Discussions were lively, diverse, engaging and quite informative. This came as a surprise to us because we did not realize beforehand that visualizing mobile money services would trigger such diverse thoughts in the minds of the participants and therefore diverse conversations. One chairlady of a table banking group summed up her experience in the discussions, remarking, “na leo mmetuchangamsha kweli kweli! Tumejifunza mambo mengi leo!” (You have really excited us today! We have learnt many things today).
|Mobile Money Services Chart in use|
This experience was exciting and enriching for both researchers and respondents. Within the context of the activities, it was easy for respondents to talk about their personal financial practices and provide information, which under normal circumstances might be difficult to share. For instance, one participant shared with participants about her secret business money saving practices. In order to avoid interference and misuse of business money, she “hides” it in an M-Shwari Deposit Account, a paperless micro-savings product (offered by Safaricom in partnership with Commercial Bank of Africa and operated through M-Pesa). She reasoned that it is easy for her husband to track her savings on her M-Pesa Account but not so easy with her M-Shwari Deposit Account. This way, she is able to control her business finances without interference. However, she has never used the M-Shwari micro-credit product. She finances her business activities through her table banking group and through other micro-finance institutions such as Small and Micro-Enterprise Program (SMEP).
|Productive Resources Control Chart in use|
All in all, our experience in using Object-Centered Focus Group Discussions taught us that this is an excellent way of collecting data on sensitive topics. However, researchers must be alert and sensitive to remarks coming from the participants, which can be probed to yield more information and reveal unexpected details. In addition, depending on the topic of discussion, researchers need to be careful not to be sidetracked by the excitement of participants as they discuss their own subjects triggered by the images and writings on the charts.
Read Milcah Mulu-Mutuku and Castro Ngumbu Gichuki's final report here
If you would like to leave feedback about this blog post and the Consumer Finance Research Methods Toolkit, see here.
Erin B. Taylor and Gawain Lynch, with Ursula Dalinghaus (2016). Consumer Finance Research Methods Toolkit. IMTFI. http://www.imtfi.uci.edu/files/consumer_finance_research_methods_project/IMTFI%20Consumer%20Finance%20Research%20Methods%20Toolkit_beta%20version_Reduced%20size.pdf