I read a great piece last week from Scientific American magazine about ingenious sources of data. The article highlighted research trying to understand the interplay of large predators and domesticated “prey” in human-dominated landscapes.
The methodological question comes down to how do you find out what the large predators are eating? Some researchers have tagged the wild predators to see where they go, while others have filmed their activities using motion-detection “camera traps.” While data rich, these methods present significant risks. Tagging requires interacting with the wild animal, which is dangerous to the animal, the trapper and tagger, and typically gives data on some individual predators, not the population of them. Camera traps, while less risky for the researcher, need to be put up in specific locations, missing lots of places where predator and prey might interact.
Then comes the creativity of the researchers highlighted in the Scientific American piece. They asked a different question, to get to the same behavior. Instead of asking how to observe the predators eating prey, in the moment, they asked how to observe what the predators ate. Their answer? Poop. That’s the scoop.
They blocked off statistically significant areas to look for scat, and then they surveyed those areas, finding, bagging, and labeling each one they found. No risk that two different animals participated in the same piece of scat. Nature helps that way, so the researchers knew that the scat came from one predator. Through straightforward scat analysis and DNA analysis, they knew what animal the predator was and what prey it had consumed. Very low risk and greater representation of the overall population. An ingenious source of data that was relatively easy to collect.
Applying the same thinking to the evidence collected about agreements in groups of people, specifically using Agreements Evidence Maps (see earlier blogpost), what evidence is relatively easy to collect, represents the general behavior being sought with lots of rich data about individual behavior, and intervenes minimally in the daily lives of the people being observed? If people do make specific agreements, what artifact of evidence, what residue, must be left behind? For example, if we do indeed believe that being very supportive of your growth and development is important, then what must be also visible? I suggest that we would see that we actually spend time, on a regular basis, talking about your development. We would also probably have expectations about what you are learning along the way, and we would have ways for you to share that. Observable artifacts left behind.
Again, if the agreements are there, what artifacts must also be there? That’s the scoop.
Please share your reflections, inquiries, or suggestions about this inquiry into evidence of human agreements in the comments section here.