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Poggie's Study of Ciudad Industrial

In any given domain of culture, some people are more competent than others. In our culture, some people know a lot about the history of baseball; some people can name the actors in every sitcom since the beginning of television in the 1940s. Some people are experts on medicinal plants; others are experts on cars and trucks. John Poggie (1972) did an early study of informant competence. He selected one informant in each of seven Mexican communities. The communities ranged in size from 350 to 3,000 inhabitants. The informants were village or town presidents, or judges, or (in the case of agricultural communities) the local commissioners of communal land. Poggie asked these informants questions about life in the communities, and he compared the answers with data from a high-quality social survey.

For example, Poggie asked the seven informants: ‘‘How many men in this town are workers in Ciudad Industrial?’’ (Ciudad Industrial is a fictitious name of a city that attracted many labor migrants from the communities that Poggie studied.) In his survey, Poggie asked respondents if they had ever worked in Ciudad Industrial. The correlation between the answers given by Poggie’s expert informants and the data obtained from the survey was .90.

Table 7.1 Agreement between Informants and Survey Data in Seven Villages

Questions asked of informants

Correlation with questionnaire data

Number of men from this town who are workers in Ciudad Industrial

0.90

Percentage of houses made of adobe

0.71

Percentage of households that have radios

0.52

Percentage of people who eat eggs regularly

0.33

Percentage of people who would like to live in Ciudad Industrial

0.23

Percentage of people who eat bread daily

0.14

Percentage of people who sleep in beds

0.05

SOURCE: J. J. Poggie, ''Toward Quality Control in Key Informant Data,'' Human Organization, Vol. 31, pp. 26-29,1972. Reprinted with permission of the Society for Applied Anthropology.

Poggie also asked: ‘‘What percentage of the houses here are made of adobe?’’ This time, the correlation between the informants and the survey was only .71. Table 7.1 shows the seven questions Poggie asked, and how well his informants did when their answers were compared to the survey.

Overall, informants produced answers most like those in the survey when they were asked to respond to questions about things that are publicly observable. The survey data are not necessarily more accurate than the informants’ data. But as the questions require informants to talk about things inside people’s homes (such as what percentage of people eat eggs), or about what people think (what percentage of people would like to work in Ciudad Industrial), informants’ answers look less and less like those of the survey.

Poggie concluded that ‘‘There is little reason to believe that trust and rapport would improve the reliability and precision concerning what percentage sleep in beds, who would like to live in the new industrial city, or what percentage eat bread daily’’ (Poggie 1972:29). (For more on selecting informants who have high competence in specialized domains, see the discussion of consensus analysis in chapter 16.)

 
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