Coordinating fieldwork remotely – Challenges and Opportunities

Iris Hordijk 18th April 2021 

Due to the pandemic our fieldwork activities are postponed to times where the coronavirus is not heavily restricting daily life. Usually, we spend at least a few months in the field each year in either Australia, Ghana or Mexico, but now we are experiencing the challenges and opportunities of coordinating fieldwork from behind a laptop or phone. This way of coordinating the data collection is only possible if you have a skilled team at your field site with a responsible and independent leader. Especially at our sites in Mexico this is the case, where a long history of relationship building with the local community by Jorge Meave and Miguel Martínez Ramos resulted in the fortunate situation where data collection can continue without a PANTROP team member being present.

The coordination of fieldwork remotely can sometimes result in new situations where you get a phone call in the middle of the night (yes there is a 7 hour difference between Mexico and Europe), or that you get a whatsapp from your local field assistant to tell you that they are running out of tree tags tomorrow, while you are pretty sure that you communicated that you need at least a week to ship anything to the remote field site. In this way it is not so different from fieldwork on the ground, as you are dealing with unexpected situations or need to come up with a clever solution on the spot.

What does make it different is the connection with your fieldsite, as pictures are helpful but do not tell the whole story, or the interaction with the local people, and the jokes with the field assistants and students during lunch. It teaches me that I can trust my field assistants, as the data coming in seems accurate, and that with empowering them with materials, trust and a decent salary I will have a very independent field team next time I will go into the field again!