Program on Field Research

Program on Field Research

2014 — Year in Review

“In a world dominated by electronic connectivity, there is the illusion of knowledge about foreign places that does not actually exist,” says noted author and geopolitical scholar Robert Kaplan. Mindful of the illusory nature of such knowledge, FPRI’s Program on Field Research promotes the training and conduct of geopolitical field research, defined as seeing and analyzing foreign places as they actually exist, rather than as we want it to be.

In 2014, FPRI’s scholars, researchers, associates and students travelled to six continents (and several unstable regions) with an effective, trained research mindset, using data and facts collected from their journeys to provide scholarship and public insight. Additionally, the core field research team developed, validated, and taught a core curriculum to students on the basic principles of field research in complex and unstable environments.

This year’s geopolitical events took director David Danelo on two major research trips. In March, Danelo reported from Ukraine and Iraqi Kurdistan, forecasting Odessa’s capacity to thwart Russian influence and Mosul’s fall to the Islamic State. Danelo also researched the largest democratic election in world history, filing dispatches on the rise of Narendra Modi from Varanasi, India’s ancient holy city. Previous field research served Danelo well during the summer, when thousands of Central American children crossed the U.S.-Mexico border to seek asylum. A former policy and planning director for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Danelo lectured on the issue in several forums, including Geopolitics with Granieri, FPRI’s flagship lecture and webcast program.

Research associate Eugenia Lee also had a busy year in the field, publishing a piece in The Guardian (UK) about foreign aid and NGO corruption based on previous work in Kenya just before a journey to Peru. An ethnographer based in New York City, Lee also will travel to Taiwan before the end of 2014 to write about the developing innovation economy.

Beyond individual scholarship achievements, field research program staff developed and presented the core curriculum of body language awareness, violence dynamics, and research interviewing skills to students traveling outside the United States, particularly focused on coaching those bound for unstable political environments. Through this formal coursework, as well as informal guidance, FPRI’s field research staff has advised and assisted research in Mexico, Brazil, Jordan, Morocco, Turkey, Ukraine, South Africa, Australia, Ecuador, Cuba, Japan, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

The field research program’s inaugural year has provided both challenge and opportunity. We look forward to doing and teaching field research in 2015, and to bringing back policy insights for scholarship from regions where many are reluctant to roam.

Endorsements and Testimonials:

“David Danelo is an extraordinary field researcher who has lived in the world about which he writes so eloquently.  I strongly endorse his approach and research, which will contribute to knowing the world, something for which we strive at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.”

Admiral James Stavridis, USN (Ret), Dean of The Fletcher School and former NATO Supreme Allied Commander

“In a world dominated by electronic connectivity, there is the illusion of knowledge about foreign places that does not actually exist. Google searches about a place are simply not the same as going there, interviewing people, and observing how the society on the ground functions and does not function. I will always trust an experienced field researcher more than any electronic document.  This program is vital for training the next generation of such researchers.  The only way we will really know about the world is by seeing it first-hand through the eyes of trained observers.”

Robert D. Kaplan, foreign correspondent and chief geopolitical analyst, Stratfor

“A fabulous and needed idea. The irrelevance of academic pursuits is, in part, driven by the unwillingness and inability of scholars to do difficult field research. We have studies from 30,000 feet and higher, but what we need is more knowledge of how real individuals operate in real villages, tribes, mountain valleys, and city neighborhoods. This program will teach necessary skills for academics interested in field research on the frontier of political order.”

Dr. Jakub J. Grygiel, George H. W. Bush Associate Professor, Johns Hopkins University

“No matter how much time you spend in an academic setting studying research methodologies, there will always be an element of surprise and risk once you’re on the ground conducting fieldwork. The FPRI Field Research Training Program minimizes that risk and prepares field workers for the unexpected challenges of conducting research in new, unfamiliar, and often dangerous environments. Having conducted fieldwork in Chile, Ethiopia, and Afghanistan, I can speak firsthand to the difference that this type of practical and widely applicable curriculum makes.”

Eileen Guo, founder, Impassion, Afghanistan’s first digital agency

“David Danelo’s insights on planning and executing field research resonate with me as a human rights researcher and lawyer. His first-hand perspectives on situational risk assessment, preparedness, and mindful engagement have been tremendously helpful to me in planning field investigations exploring human rights issues in Myanmar/Burma. As a human rights advocate, I feel David’s guidance would be valuable to anyone seeking to learn and hone investigational research skills.”

Mr. Joey Lee, Asia Law and Justice Fellow, Leitner Center for International Law and Justice, Fordham Law School

“Having studied abroad in Cuba shortly after taking FPRI’s field research training program, I am certain his lessons on world geography, safe international travel, and human body language made my research time in Cuba not only more effective but also safer.  The breadth of material the program covers will prove highly insightful for anyone traveling abroad.”

James Midkiff, George Washington University (Class of ’16); Research Intern, Foreign Policy Research Institute