Thursday, April 21, 2016

Alumni Session Panel of the 2016 Conference

The final panel of the first day not only focused on long-term work done by returning IMTFI scholars but also emphasized the ways that multiple approaches and methodologies may involve creating media or technologies other than money itself.  These forms of creative production often entail implementing a variety of design decisions and user testing scenarios for these novel instruments.  (Recently IMTFI has made its own Consumer Finance Methods Research Toolkit available online, as well as an explanatory document IMTFI Trust and Money: It's Complicated, so the researcher as product designer is a paradigm that they model actively.)  Although at the end of the day IMTFI head Maurer was joking about scenarios in which "a journalist, an anthropologist, and an economist go into a bar," the interdisciplinary benefits of multiple rounds of IMTFI funding and the cross-training of research cohorts has been no laughing matter.

"IMTFI's X Factor: Applying and Translating Innovative Research" was introduced by longtime social computing researcher Scott Mainwaring, who has been with IMTFI from the beginning and facilitated by discussant Divine Fuh of the University of Cape Town.  The session started with "How Research Can Make a Difference Locally: The Case of Overseas Remittances in the Philippines" by Jeremaiah Opiniano who -- self-deprecating comments abut his background as a journalist aside -- detailed the history of three rounds of funding for the RICART (Remittance Investment Climate Analysis in Rural Hometowns) tool, which analyzes "where overseas Filipinos from rural hometowns can best invest their money."

As Opiniano pointed out, regulations intended to inhibit money-laundering could negatively impact vulnerable countries, which he saw already affecting remittances.  He explained how researchers focused on rural areas because "that is where most of the overseas migrants come from."  He lauded the value of working with an economist so that quantitative and qualitative methods.  He explained how his tool repurposed a World Bank survey but how being physically present in the study site was critical in order to understand practices of community engagement.  Currently the group is working in Guiguinto, and he showed several ways that community members were interacting in public events. For example, he discussed how members of Family Circle were "trying to discover themselves" as participants. He praised an approach that emphasizes phenomenography, which maintains an empirical orientation but deeply engages with questions of human experience by focusing on differences in different people's experiences and thus looking at the locality's remittance investment climate with individual descriptions of personal understanding.

He acknowledged that his continuing study has faced several challenges, including the reluctance of participants, the closure of banks, and obstacles to keeping up with demands for regulation,  Moreover, "some of them are friendly, and some of them are not."  He affirmed the value of working with an economist "to connect the dots" by putting data sets together and tracking regressions, which depends on moving from a QUAN-qual to a QUAN-QUALbalance that incorporates how levels of socio-economic development differ by using a competitiveness index.  (For more about toolkits, you can check out this World Bank Trade Competitiveness Index.)  His presentation was deeply grounded in pragmatic engagements, from considering how the cost of electricity and cost of the services of financial systems might be ranked to planning incentives such as raffle prizes or groceries for participants.  He looks forward to sharing views on his findings as the conference proceeds.

"Translating Research into Product Design:  Interactive and Innovative Financial Education Modules to Improve the Financial Behavior of Targeted Populations in India" by Deepti KC opened with a fundamental question: "do we really know the financial lives of women?" She described how she designed a study that followed the financial lives of 25 women, which used "some promotional materials and financial literacy tools", but primarily focused on changing the mode of interaction from talking to listening.  In this study she found that all of the women appeared to have separate sources of income and were hiding money, mostly in the kitchen, often from husbands.  Although the women's lives might include the disruptions of banknotes eaten by vermin and domestic violence catalyzed by discovery of money caches, she wanted her work to honor their ingenuity and resourcefulness.  In explaining the lack of pursuit of being banked among women, she noted that banks might not accept their small savings or be perceived of as threatening and stigmatizing.  Furthermore, she identified a prevalent bias that ATMs and other uses of technology were for men, which was compounded by a fear of ridicule.  She prioritized using real life stories, because she didn't want to be too preachy.  By providing a meaningful "frame of reference," financial literacy educators treated the materials as prompts for discussion rather than solely didactic.

In considering questions about if financial literacy was enough, she cited an influential study done in Kenya with lockboxes. (Those who would like to consult this research by economists Pascaline Dupas and Jonathan Robinson can read their seminal article "Why Don't the Poor Save More?")  Based on this previous work, she decided to design a simple lockbox and key.   Significant findings concerned how many saving goals were related to a child and how 73% reported discussing household expenses with family after experiencing the interventions.  She noted how this phenomenon could increase with group dynamics and how financial education was enhanced if the educator was a female authority figure that they desired to emulate.  She advocated for having financial inclusion researchers "spend time with women in the field for a long time," because their desires might be "different from what we think they need." In the question and answer session, she also differentiated between "knowledge" and "trust."  Check out this in-depth profile of Deepti K.C., which includes a full interview and an account of a day-long visit to one of her field sites in Bihar.

"Juggling Currencies in Transborder Contexts: Mexico/US" by Magdalena Villareal explained how "video became part of the research."  She asserted the value of comparative work and human factors, since money doesn't travel by itself.  She argued for valuing "social currencies" and "symbolic currency" alongside economic currencies and observed that "one national currency" operates differently in different contexts, as it is "embedded in social scenarios."  In commenting on the rancorous campaign environment debating about the contributions (or costs) of immigrants from Mexico, she reminded audience members that "money often comes back to the United States," because of remittance loops.  As an example, she pointed to the case study of her field site in which there were "constant interactions with Hawaii, even in mountainous regions in Mexico" which extended "to the level of how many chickens are counted" in a day or adoption of foods like pasta with mushrooms.  For researchers, according to Villareal, the challenge is to capture how "flows are not registered" and "uncover the nature of money."  As a producer of media, she also included her subjects in the process by "showing the people part of the footage and having peoples' responses to the footage."

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