Surveying the Village (photos)

We spent two days “in the field” surveying households last week. 

These rural villages aren’t far from urban centers or highways, and in many ways can resemble the city slums, but (in my experience) are more spread out. 

We have been visiting a selection of houses with biogas plants (and stoves that burn the gas), traditional cookstoves (or chulhas), and improved cookstoves (kerosene, LPG, electric, or “rocket stoves”). 

Here is a traditional chulha (no chimney) in an enclosed brick kitchen – the window nearby at least offers some escape for the smoke. 


I’ll give a primer on biogas plants in my next post.  Here, a woman uses a stove running with the methane produced by her biogas plant.  What clean energy!


This man was a bit better off.  Here is his biogas plant – in the background is a chicken farm he runs. [aside: the chicken farm building had wire mesh walls, so at least the chickens had some air, and plenty of room to run around inside]


To be surveyed (for about 3 hours), he brought out two chairs and a table from his house. 


Here’s where the dung is added to a biogas plant, and presumably stirred with this stick.


This woman shows me her stove that runs on biogas.


This man showed me to a well – functioning biogas plant, and I asked to take his photo in front of it.  After the photo he started laughing and I learned that it wasn’t his plant but belonged to his neighbors – here it is nonetheless.


Another biogas stove:


My favorite photo- this woman has a kerosene stove (pictured) although she generally uses her chulha.  She didn’t feel comfortable having me take a photo of her kitchen, so we settled on her doorstep.  Her husband stands to the left.


One of our star surveyors, hard at work in the foreground below.  Since the survey takes so long, people can get quite bored and want to get back to their work.  The best story of a dedicated surveyor is S., who was surveying a farmer.  After 40 minutes, the farmer said he needed to return to the rice paddy.  Undettered, S. accompanied him and stood in the paddy asking questions for an additional 1.5-2 hours while the farmer worked.  If it were appropriate, I would have bought S. a drink. Instead, I congratulated him enthusiastically and said “5 stars work!”


First day in the field

After months of preparation, we launched the final survey today.  The past few days have been hectic getting everything today, but at last we had a stack of surveys, conjoint analyses, scales, tape measures, and pencils ready for today:


The front page of the survey was printed in 5 different colors, which coordinate with the version of the conjoint option cards that each family is shown. 

The team for our first day consisted of:

  • a team of six enumerators (who actually ask the survey to the household) – the quality of our survey really rests of the shoulders of these men.   if they do not ask the questions properly, don’t record the answers, or miscategorize the household, the data quality is compromised.  i have so much respect for these men – they must convince the household to answer the survey (which can take 1-3 hours), try to keep them interested, and remain highly alert themselves… and do this for about a month.
  • the field leader, U., who is really wonderful at his job.  he is very organized, trained the team, and has come with the entire field plan.  he has a 2 hour commute every day to our office from the village where he lives with his wife, parents, and young son – a village not that much different from the villages we are surveying. 
  • the project manager (for our partner organization in India)
  • 2 drivers

What an very interesting day – I’m so exhausted from it that it’s hard to find the energy to write, but I want to do it while everything is still fresh. 

Today we were sampling in an industrial zone – cement and iron plants are off in the distance.  The air was grey/white, all day (from 9:30 until 5), not even a glimmer of blue. I suspect this is due to air full of fine particles, trapping light, but we aren’t collecting environmental data yet so I can’t be positive. 

This photo was taken at the top of a very small hill where the government is building an ecotourism site, so that people can come and admire the view from a temple at the top.  It’s a nice view, but thoroughly obscured by the cloud [of pollution] squatting on top of the region.




So here we are – Sapanpur.  It took us about 30 minutes of driving on dirt/paved roads from the nearest highway, through endless rice paddies in the middle of the harvest.  Some houses were built from cement, others from brick and straw.

Cows are sprinkled evenly throughout villages – and the sight of a cow eating straw rather than trash was such a happy vision, after spending so much time in the city. 

The village was clean and wooded – though clearly poor. 













We first asked our community questionnaire at the school.  Painted in large letters on the sign of the school was a student helpline phone number.  My immediate assumption was that this was for students to call if they are in trouble – since that is what a similar sign in America would mean.  But I learned that here, in and Indian village, the number is for parents or students to call if their teacher did not come to class. 


This school was a happy place. Every student had a teacher and a group of students.  All the students were sitting on the floor.  In the office where we talked with one of the head teachers, a poster hung with the name of each teacher, their degree, the date they started teaching at the school, and their retirement date. The earliest was 2023, but others weren’t until decades later.  I don’t know if I would want a reminder of that hanging on the wall – but it’s fascinating to me that perhaps this indicates that the teachers expect to stay at the school until retirement.


More to come in the next post about the households!