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Thinking out of the box: MISTY fieldwork plans during COVID-19

Updated: Jul 23

Author: Dominique Jolivet



At the end of March 2020, the MISTY team was planning to conduct a comparative survey across 5 sites. The outbreak of COVID-19 in most of our research sites compelled us to think out of the box in order to adapt our data collection plans.

One of the themes of the MISTY project deals with identity and cultural dimensions of sustainability. It explores if attitudes and behaviours around economic, social and environmental sustainability change with migration and if migrant populations can play a catalytic role in planning for and collectively engaging in sustainability.

The data collection around this theme started in 2019, when we conducted semi-structured interviews in our 6 research sites – Accra, Amsterdam, Brussels, Dhaka, Maputo and Worcester (US). The main purpose of the qualitative data collection was twofold; (1) to collect novel and unique data on the subjective and contextual meanings of sustainability from the perspective of urban inhabitants, and (2) to provide input for the development of a survey questionnaire. Our sample included people born and raised in the city of residence and people born elsewhere (internal and international migrants).

The comparative survey takes a longitudinal approach and is designed to study changes in sustainable practices (attitudes and behaviours) in individuals’ lives over the life course and the migration trajectory. It examines issues of identity, place attachment, and the potential for migrant and non-migrant populations to be active agents for change. The biosecurity measures taken with the COVID-19 outbreak in the sites under study compelled the project to postpone the fieldwork. It is still uncertain to what extent and when we will be able to conduct the survey in most of the research sites.


Although we still aim to implement the comparative survey as soon as possible, we have designed three additional data collection instruments to ensure that we can test some of the initial hypothesis envisaged in the comparative survey. Additionally, the three instruments will allow us to better understand the effect of the COVID-19 crisis in sustainable practices (behaviour and attitudes) considering two factors. On the one hand, the fact that the global health crisis amplifies social inequality. On the other hand, the emergence of new opportunities for participation in alternative citizen-led initiatives emerged in reaction to the shortcomings of the state to face the COVID-19 crisis, for instance, to provide assistance to vulnerable populations, support the local economy or provide equipment to health care professionals.


With the new instruments we will collect qualitative and quantitative data:


Second wave of semi-structured interviews to the same participants


The unique and fortuitous position of MISTY is to have baseline qualitative data from the first wave, collected before the COVID-19 outbreak. Similarly to the first wave of interviews, the design involves comparative data collection to examine common processes across places with diverse migration profiles and histories. By re-interviewing some of participants of first wave cohort, the analysis will document how does the COVID-19 crisis affect practices (perceptions, attitudes and behaviours) related to security, mobility, distance and isolation, sustainable consumption, and community in migrant and non-migrant populations. Sub-questions are:


· Are migrants perceived as a threat and stigmatised or marginalised due to the biosecurity dimensions of the COVID-19 crisis?


· What are the consequences of the COVID-19 crisis in terms of community building, place attachment, identity formation and social participation?


· What are the implications of the COVID-19 crisis in the livelihoods of migrant and non-migrants and how do they affect migration aspirations and decisions?


The data collection via videoconference and mobile phone started in June 2020 and has been completed in most of our research sites.


Online survey in Amsterdam


Keeping the planned longitudinal approach of the comparative survey, we have designed an online panel survey in collaboration with OIS Amsterdam, the research department of the Municipality of Amsterdam that collects data on Amsterdam inhabitants on topics such as employment, housing, safety, health care or education. OIS surveys are sometimes collected online among a panel of Amsterdam residents. The panel includes inhabitants with a migration background -first generation and second generation migrants. In 2017, OIS Amsterdam conducted a survey on sustainable practices (attitudes and behaviours) among 1400 panel participants, out of which more than 950 are currently active members. We added cases to the panel component in order to collect the second wave survey among 2800 respondents and the 2017 dataset will be used as the baseline. The online survey partially builds on the research questions of the initially planned comparative survey and asks in the context of Amsterdam:


· To what extent Amsterdammers with or without migration background have adopted more or less sustainable practices between 2017 and 2020 in Amsterdam?


· What is the effect of particular life stages linked to migration, parenthood, main activity and citizenship on sustainable practices of Amsterdam residents?


· Has the COVID-19 crisis led to reconfigurations in sustainable practices (attitudes and behaviours) and views on what are the most important components of sustainability?


· What is the effect of the COVID-19 crisis in migration and mobility practices?


The implementation of the survey started in mid-July 2020.


Telephone survey in Bangladesh


MISTY partner RMMRU, in collaboration with the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, is conducting a longitudinal project to study the effect of migration on poverty and development in Bangladesh through a panel survey. Over a period of 10 years, the panel survey collects data among three types of households – without migrant members, with internal migrants and with (short-term) international migrants. The third wave of data collection (IMPD 3) will start in August 2020 and will include a short module with open- and closed-ended questions designed by MISTY to explore the meaning of sustainability in different contexts and the effect of COVID-19 in the household. Drawing on the questions designed for the online survey in Amsterdam, the data collected will allow us to explore:


· What does sustainability mean in different rural contexts in Bangladesh?


· To what extent meanings of sustainability differ between households with and without migrant members?


· Has the COVID-19 crisis led to changes in the level of interest in sustainability issues?


· What are the effects of the COVID-19 crisis in the households and in their migration and mobility practices?


In August 2020, while we keep planning the comparative survey, we will start the analysis of the data collected in times of Coronavirus.

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