1. How can research be made useful on a local level?
It can be made useful to them if it is in their language and they can update it. Once in their language they can use it for mobilization and sending. What else do we really need unreached people information for. The stat is that 2.5% of all giving and sending to missions goes to the Unreached world. So that would mean that 98% of all we do in research of Unreached peoples is not getting them reached. We need to get the Global South Missionary Movement aware of and sending to the Unreached.
2. Where’s the balance between utilizing large international databases versus gathering data locally? What is best to do on each level?
Well, if the larger international databases could share data and they at least put the year they received new data then they could be used on the most important data, scale of reachedness. Again only 2.5% of all missions activity is toward Unreached peoples so we need to know which peoples are still unreached. Also new people adds and language adds are import, (language adds being ethno-linguistic peoples) I talked to Ted B. last week, he is SIL’s linguistic research coordinator for China and Southeast Asia. He said there are 150+ languages in China that are on no ones list yet. Not surveyed. So we need the international databases to work together so that when new scale data comes in on one of the new people/language additions we all know about it. Right now it does not work. I think local field data can come directly from the field (in their language) or to the big databases. The problem is that we don’t know which peoples have been updated in the major databases and when.
3. How can we develop strategies to recruit and train national and local researchers (it seems most of us involved in research are Westerners at this point)? How should we describe the research task in a way that it seems interesting and useful to non-western church leaders?
I think part of the problem is that we make the task too technical. We have made Etnopedia as simple as possible and still I think it is still too technical. I think Barb has found a good model and that is that one (technical) person gathers the data from many other researchers who gather the data on the field. I had an idea for Latin America in 2005. Everyone country has two sets of 3×5 cards. Their cards are each people group in their country or crossing country it doesn’t matter. They update both sets of cards every time new data comes in. Mainly scale (THEIR SCALE NOT OURS), Bible translation status, location changes, population isn’t as important. The second set of cards is taken to the regional or country level office where the technical person with his computer and internet connection updated the main list. Then the second set is returned to the country office. Two sets exist so that if one is lost they can make a copy. Some people at the US Center are wanting to do research in Latin America and have asked me to form the plan so I might get to try my idea.
About recruitment of researchers. I was talking this week with the director of church engagement for Wycliffe and he said in India they pay local Christians to do the research. The US Center wanted to spend 20.000 USD to get all the researchers in Latin America together in a meeting. I told them, no more meetings. 20,000 dollars can buy you about 2 years research in two countries. Two people can do research in a country for about 5,000 dollars each. It is probably cheaper in other parts of the world. The problem is what will the quality of the research be like? The training is also important. It takes time to get good at field research and to know how to ask and re-ask the same questions and what to look for. I’m mainly talking about scale (THEIR SCALE NOT OURS), Bible translation status, location changes, and population. Population can’t be gathered in most cases from census data and SIL’s data can be old or represent only language speakers and not all ethnic peoples. Sometimes it is stated sometimes not. So populations are estimated and that takes years to learn and isn’t precise we don’t have years. So I don’t see that populations are that important really. They are for North Americans who want the bottom line.
So do people in Missionary training centers and agencies and churches have time for research? No. And most local people who want to be involved in missions already are and have no time for research. The reason North Americans are involved in it is because we are probably technically trained and know that we are not pastors or field missionaries I don’t know. Never the less, I personally would pay young people, (out of school) probably between 20 and 25 years old to do the job. I have worked in other kinds of field research training teams in Latin America to gather surveys. The biggest problem is forming a travel plan. I don’t even think it is possible to do much of this kind of research on the ground, not only on Latin America but around the world. You just can’t go up the river in a canoe to all the groups. You have to talk to all the agencies and missionaries and get the data from them. So you would only be covering maybe half of the known groups on the ground and updating scales on the groups the missionaries and churches and pastors know about. The rest of the research needs to be gathered over time. We need to recruit a person who is a mobilizer at the country level and who will work a set of people profiles and use them as a data gathering tool. They serve both mobilization and research. We need the profile to tell us things that a spreadsheet cannot tell us. Remember that our work is really only good for 2.5% of the missionary effort.
4. What’s the latest on multi-lingual data sharing?
Visit Etnopedia and look at the articles on how to translate. The community portal. The Forum and the other non profile pages. Nothing else is being done multi-lingual as far as I know. People are doing profiles in other languages, but not in a way that data can be shared or updated.
5. Where’s the balance between research for having good data and research as ministry? What’s the Biblical Basis for doing research in the first place?
Having good data means having good ministry for those of us focused on church planting and Bible translating among unreached peoples. It is a major link in the chain. Biblical basis is Jesus saying open your eyes and look to the harvest fields. We need to open “our” eyes and unfortunately the church has had many chances to evangelize the world when there weren’t so many languages and peoples. Not it is a mess and we need to know more specifically where those fields are. Especially that so little is going into Unreached People Mission.