Margaret Swink

Margaret Swink (Dzeno Association, Czech Republic): Originally from Michigan, Margaret received her B.A. in international relations from Michigan State in 2000. Seeking a warmer climate, she joined the Peace Corps and spent the next two years teaching English and building a library in Cameroon. At the time of her fellowship, Margaret was finishing her first year of her Master’s program in International Relations at Yale University with a concentration in comparative foreign policy and human rights.

Asking the Right Questions

17 Jun

Filling out questionnaires is rather unremarkable in the United States. I must have filled out hundreds in my lifetime: evaluations of classes, feedback to restaurants, surveys of public transportation needs on campus. Our culture loves such instruments, yet the average person filling them out gives little thought to how hard it is to make an effective questionnaire.

This week, my eyes have been opened. I have been working on designing a questionnaire to send out to other Roma organizations to gather information about evictions of Roma families throughout Europe. The information gleaned from these questionnaires will eventually become a report that Dzeno can present internationally. Of course, as the report must be in English, and as no one else here has the time to put such an extensive review together, this report is my major summer project. Which leaves me in charge of creating the questionnaire.

Writing the questions has difficult for two reasons: the first is trying to get the question to actually provide the information that we want to know. Asking why Roma were evicted is more complicated than you might think. The obvious answer, that we don’t need a questionnaire to prove, is that most Roma are poor, and so they are evicted more frequently than the majority population. The legal reasons are just as easy to come up with: the evicted Roma tenants didn’t have enough money to pay the rent, or they were illegally squatting in a dilapidated building. The problem is how to get at the motivations behind the evictions. In many cases, Roma have been squatting illegally for years before evictions occur. Evictions usually happen after some motivating event: in Greece it was the 2004 Olympics, in Britain, the 2005 National Elections. To create a complete picture of evictions, we need to know about all of these factors, and thus must make questions that will gather all of this information.

The second reason that question writing has been so difficult is my own lack of knowledge about Roma issues, and European life. For example: one of our questions attempts to enumerate the reasons Roma become homeless (to determine how many incidences of homelessness result from forced evictions); however, to ask a multiple choice question requires an understanding of homelessness among Roma that my American background just doesn’t cover. While asking my colleagues for feedback gives me a great cross cultural experience, and lets me learn more about Roma culture, writing this question also caused great discussions in the office….why would a Roma woman EVER become homeless because of domestic violence (a common reason for female homelessness in the US)? Aren’t mentally illness and choice the same responses? And on and on….every response must be talked over and examined for cultural relevance and accuracy.

It is a truism that to get the right answers, you must ask the right questions. Hopefully, at the end of the whole process, between my efforts and those of my Dzeno colleagues, we will come up with a questionnaire that gives us the information we need to make a good report. As frustrating as the whole process of writing the darn thing has been, I am excited to get back results and start working on the report. The finished project will be among the first reports Dzeno has been able to produce for an international audience, which will be a huge achievement, both for them and for me.

Posted By Margaret Swink

Posted Jun 17th, 2005

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