I was recently at a missions conference and had the privilege to spend a few days with fellow unreached people group researchers. One was with the International Missions Board and the other was from the U.S. Center for World Mission.
After talking for a few hours about collaboration, I suggested that we all put a date by our scales. This is needed in order to communicate to other mission movements. It does not require that other research efforts accept my scale. It does not require that I be allowed access to sensitive data. It is a simple year date hand entered next to the reached status or scale.
- Aimaq, Jamshidi; Reached status: Unreached  – This year date next to a reached status scale is the last time someone closest to the people group confirmed that the group was unreached.
- Aimaq, Jamshidi; Reached status: Some Progress  – This year date next to a reached status scale is date that this scale was changed.
Here are some suggested guidelines.
- The year date should be changed by hand and not a formula.
- This information comes from someone closest to the people group.
- If we do not know the date is should be [xxxx].
- Dates can and should be changed even when the scale remains the same if that scale is confirmed in that year. This shows the mission movement the most recent data as well as where we need to do more research.
- Do not change your old dates without a field verification, they are good for the research and mission movement. Leave the old dates there no matter how embarrassing they may be. (read below)
- The tendency is to complicate something simple or to automate it. This should not be made more complicated or automated.
I began doing field research in Mexico in 1999. I began putting the dates on the scales the year that visited the people group. I also put dates on the scales the year the information was gathered from other research efforts. We still have dates on people groups from . You can do a search on this page for 1992 to see what our research priority would be in Mexico. http://es.etnopedia.org/wiki/index.php/México
If a church or agency wanted to adopt a people group that was unreached, they would be more likely to choose an unreached group that had a recent data, say  or .
To this day, the date helps us prioritize field research. In 2010 and 2011 we began to visit tribes that had old dates on their scales. We visited three Zoque tribes in Chiapas as their dates were from . Now they are .
When a field missionary or a reliable source has been in a group and confirms or changes the reached status, we put the current year. E.g. . Our rule is that we database administrators, must have first hand information in order to change a date or a reached status. A field researcher who knows his or her network well, may be able to make changes with solid second hand information. Personally, when we are updating “unreached peoples” we only use first hand information.
An example of first hand information would be a database administrator updating that information while talking directly to a field missionary or a reliable Christian source that has personally been in the people group. The database administrator, or field researcher is simply doing the work of updating. The information comes from the field.
We have tried for years to get people to update the information on their people group(s) and have had little luck. Database administrators and field researchers are still needed. The field missionaries do not see the need to communicate to the rest of the world the state of their people groups. Where there are no missionaries, that is where the field researcher has to go to the people group to find out. This data is not perfect but it is the best data we have to offer the mission movement.
I remember the first time I printed the people group list for a missionary conference. All the people groups were in a photo copied book with populations, scales and the date. I will never forget the reaction of a few people. They said, “Look at these dates, they are embarrassing!” I being the person in charge of research, should have been the one embarrassed, but I commented that I need to see those dates in order to know how good my information is.
I have recently thought that we need to put the most accurate dates on all our people group lists. This data may not be possible to get. So if you were to put at least , in just a few short years you will begin to see the age of your scales. Currently Etnopedia has  on most of its scales. This is the year that we moved all our profiles from a Spanish only system to a Multilingual. It was the last year that we checked a reliable Christian source.
Sourcing your dates and scales is also recommended but we don’t want to ask too much of a research effort. You have enough work to do.
We cite the sources where we get our scales (and the date ) on the discussion page of each people group on the English Etnopedia. Click the discussion tab.
At this point we have updated our scales (changing the date to the current year) when we check a major research effort. I am not sure this works, but it is the best data we have available to us and it tells us the last time we checked a major source. I have spent many hours thinking about if this is the thing to do, and so far it is the best I feel we can.
Here is another example of how dates can help on Etnopedia: An IMB field missionary updates their reached scale in the CPPI/GSEC to 2012. Someone from the Etnopedia team updates the date on that people profile on the English portal. Then the German portal team updates their people profile. The Spanish portal team, the Russian portal team, the Indonesian portal team all update their profiles. Different missionary movements are now able to see this new data.
This is a proposal to all major and minor unreached people research efforts to hand place a year data next to your reached status scale.
If you will add this simple field, other research efforts and mobilization efforts will be able to update their information with more accuracy. It won’t be easy to see all those old dates or blank dates on your data, it could even be a bit embarrassing but it will push us all to get up-to-date information. It will also force us to build a stronger network where we have none. It will help prioritize field research and most of all, it will help missionary senders make better decisions.