In 1997, economist Robert Townsend and colleague Sombat Sakunthasathien, a Thai government researcher, began to gather data on family and community finances in rural and urban Thailand. They’ve never stopped. Their program, the Thai Family Research Project (part of the Townsend Thai Project), includes surveys of 2,880 households and 262 community groups. It has resulted in hundreds of thousands of data points, making it one of the largest datasets in the developing world. Among their findings is that much of Thailand’s expanding economy is coming from rural areas. They’ve now written a book, Chronicles from the Field, which delves into statistics but also recounts the human side of doing field work. “Organizations deal with people, and this is all about the people,” Townsend tells the MIT News. “You need to build up trust. The households need to understand why you’re asking them all these questions, and you need to be honest with them. By going back, you establish that you care.”
The book is accompanied by a documentary film, “Emerging Thailand: The Spirit of Small Enterprise,” which will screen at MIT on April 23 at 5:30 p.m. in E25-111.
Explore Professor Townsend’s research in the Open Access Articles collection in DSpace@MIT, where it is openly accessible to the world.
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