Five Tips for Going on Site Visits

For any social science researcher, site visits are an important method to collect primary data. One of the things I enjoy the most about my work at Abt is going on site visits and meeting study partners face-to-face. While it’s exciting to get out in the field, there is a lot of preparation that goes into it—even after all the study documents are prepared. Here are my top five suggestions for researchers preparing to go on a site visit:

1. Give yourself enough time to travel. After my first few site visits for Abt—and at least six consecutive flights that were significantly delayed or canceled leaving me in a panic trying to get another flight out in time —I thought I had a travel curse. While no one can avoid weather issues, I now try to save myself some stress from delayed flights and mechanical problems by booking flights that have at least one or two other flight options later in the day. Similarly, when booking interviews across town, I use websites or apps to try to get a sense of what traffic is like throughout the day in the locations I’ll be traveling to and build in some buffer travel time.

2. Build in some flexibility to your schedule. Before going on a site visit, I always prepare a schedule of my day. Inevitably, my schedule often requires some changes after I arrive. If my site visit includes interviewing a certain number of program participants for evaluation purposes, I try to build in a few extra interviews to account for no-shows or last-minute cancelations. Even so, I may still come up short of my target number of interviews and have to do some on-site recruiting. When that happens, it’s helpful to have a list of alternative contacts handy.

3. Prepare for technical glitches. I personally prefer working with electronic files whenever possible, but sometimes technology fails, and I need to rely on paper protocols and hand-written notes. In the event I can’t access Wi-Fi or the network drive, I make sure to save local copies of the blank interview protocols directly to my desktop. In the event my computer doesn’t work or I can’t find a place to plug in, I also make sure to have a few extra paper copies of each version of the interview protocol or survey that I may need. And I print out directions for how to get from one interview location to the next.

4. Practice taking notes. Even when I have a recording, I always try to jot down notes when conducting interviews, even if I have someone else with me on the interview specifically to take notes. If my team member is new to interviewing, I’ll consider asking him or her to do a practice round of note taking in real time. Afterwards I can provide feedback on the notes, such as the level of detail or how to listen for key concepts.

5. Enjoy the local fare. Take some time to enjoy the city you’re visiting. Ask for recommendations on where to go for dinner or, if you’ve got some extra time before your flight leaves, ask for can’t miss locations for site-seeing. After all, we are all in favor of work-life balance!   

There are a lot of things about traveling that we can’t predict, but with a little bit of preparation, we can try to make the bumps in the road a little smoother.
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