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Dr Ijaz Shafi Gilani is a prominent social scientist and the founder and Chairman of Gallup Pakistan. Currently, he is also serving as Vice President, Gallup International (Zurich, Switzerland). He is a PhD in Political Science from MIT, USA.

BR Research: Gallup Pakistan has been carrying out and publishing Opinion Polls for over 30 years now. What has been the general trend in the extent of reception and acceptance of these polls among policymakers, academia and general public?

Dr Ijaz Shafi Gilani: The response from policymakers has been mixed. Some policy makers are open-minded and willingly accept results which are unexpected for them. In fact, a few, perhaps far too few, even cherish the surprise findings. In my view, it is in those few moments when it unveils disturbing truths running contrary to general knowledge that the value of research lies; otherwise, policy makers can, and indeed should, rely on their intuitive understanding of research.

The general public has perhaps been the most receptive. Ordinary Pakistanis receive each and every bit of information we release through the media, with such vigour and deference that it is indeed humbling. The deference with which they gulp down results released by Gallup makes us think a hundred times before we write a single line.

The least receptive, ironically, has been the academia. Pakistan's academia (like the academia in many other post-colonial countries), unfortunately, suffers from severe handicaps on account of a colonisation of the mind that has vastly outlasted material colonialism. So if they have a theory about any aspect of Pakistan society which they have borrowed from some outmoded textbook written in some far-away corner of the West, they will cling to it, giving short shrift to scientifically gathered, on-ground facts about Pakistan society.

But in general, all sectors are increasingly more open-minded about research and the criticism we now receive is substantially more informed and less knee-jerk than it used to be in the early day.

BRR: In your opinion, why is there seemingly so little appetite for Research in Pakistan, and more reliance on clichéd phrases like 'instinct' and 'gut feeling'?

ISG: If I were to venture a guess, I think the real problem here is not the 'lack' of research, but the 'kind' of research that is being done. People are researching, but in vastly different and disconnected paradigms. The policy/academia divide, language divide, religious/secular divide and so many other fractures which run through our social fabric lead to a situation where the net produce lacks both quality and relevance. Yet again, this is no cause for disappointment. Once we are able to see through the situation, and we shall do so in due time, we will be able to get over it. The problem is not inherent; it is contingent and can be resolved.

BR Research: How do you see the information dissemination landscape in Pakistan?

ISG: For various reasons, English has remained the language of knowledge that is generated in Pakistan through research and analyses. Even though Urdu versions of documents like the Economic Survey and Monetary Policies are being produced now, primary generation of these documents is in English, which is why they do not get mass-level readership and hence many economic terms have remained unfamiliar in Urdu. English audience is so tiny in Pakistan that generating informed news analyses do not make a business case. International investors, multinationals and 'desi corporates' (progressive family-owned-managed firms) are not more than a couple of hundred in numbers.

A typical Pakistani businessman, from South to the North of the country, overwhelmingly uses local-speak for communication. This audience, along with general Urdu audience, is getting increasingly sophisticated, but sophisticated material is not available to them. There were times when Urdu newspapers used to give special space to business and commerce news, but that seems to have changed over the years. I think publications for a secondary audience of Urdu must increase.

There are few thousand commercial enterprises and few hundred corporates in Pakistan. It is the SMEs that are generating major employment, and major contributions to the GDP come from various SME sectors. Publications and journals must focus on the SMEs' information needs, because so much is happening within these sectors. Whoever decides to intermediate in this area should first capture the information and then transfer it. That can be done in English language, but in a way that is easily translatable in terms of both concept and diction.

Language is an enormous barrier to communication within Pakistan. Specialised newspapers and journals should be conscious of their role as the intermediary and not view themselves as the end product. Their primary audience should be the metaphorical translator who is able to understand the concepts. We all know that science writers aren't necessarily scientists - they are the intermediaries between science and the popular audience. They carry scientific developments to the general audience in non-scientific diction. Channels like NatGeo and Discovery are also intermediaries. Economic writing is another huge market.

BRR: Where does Gallup Pakistan find itself on the intermediation spectrum?

ISG: Gallup Pakistan is also doing intermediation, but on a different level. Gallup Pakistan may be going to the general audience more than the news publications who themselves reach more specialised audiences than we do. We reach out to thousands of people. Firstly, we translate a complex issue in the language of the ordinary Pakistani citizen, a language which can be understood, in terms of the whole concept. Choice of words has to be very careful because the same sets of questions have to be asked to disparate audience. When data is collected, we have to retranslate it, but in a more sophisticated way, for a different audience now. That audience is very small, but is action-oriented and wants to be informed. This has implications on what we do and how we do; how we implement our research design, and how do we report.

In short, the selection of the agenda is governed by the kinds of audiences we have in mind. Once there is an agenda, then some sort of research design is required to collect information, and later, to conduct analyses on that. The latter part is governed by who is the recipient of the research exercise. The reporting is generally multi-tiered - it does not mean different interpretations, it means different languages for different audiences. Our complementary role then comes in, with other generators of information.

The structure of the audience has changed in various ways over the last two decades. What we bring in the market is the general picture of that change. Other players in the publication business usually take cues from the changing landscape. Primary audience of our work is small, but secondary audience is really large due to the cascading effect. We watch the larger profile of the country, and identify various segments' information needs. That gives us a broader understanding to be one step ahead and satisfy our clients' information needs.

BRR: Please tell our readers in some detail about the Gallup Methodology of Primary Research?

ISG: There are roughly 45,000 towns and villages in Pakistan, and roughly, 30,000 urban Mohallas. Together, in these two major geographic groups, 180 million Pakistanis reside. Randomly, we select 100-120 villages out of the 45,000, and 80 urban Mohallas from the 30,000. All the selections, down to the person in the household, are done at random, and the selections are always in proportion to the population density. It seems difficult in logistical terms to carry out such a large exercise, but conceptually it's not so difficult.

For a population of 180 million and roughly 85 million adults, through the randomisation process we reach approximately 2,000 adults in 200 locations, distributed in proportion to all four provinces. Random selection will take place from within both the villages and Mohallas for a representative sample. The upper end margin of error in such a scheme ranges between, give or take, three to five percent. The methodology is identical, adaptations could be different.

This is a very lay-man and commonly understandable explanation of the science of scientific statistical probability sampling which Gallup Pakistan uses for its surveys. The method is exactly similar to what is practised across the world and is regulated by Code of Ethics of International bodies like ESOMAR and WAPOR of which Gallup Pakistan has been a member for past 30 years.

The psychographic, lifestyle researches differ from one research problem to another. We might give varying importance and weight age to factors like education, gender, household size - all depending on the research problem. Gallup Pakistan brings out a publication every year that gives an idea of the attributes of a "Pakistani Consumer". We cover all the demographic and psychographic attributes in it. For instance, we look at literacy rates, population ratios, income levels, consumption habits, share of wallet, key elements of values and lifestyle, type of media, etc. We use lots of secondary data for this. We also use PSLM data released by the PBS, pick many things from this dense database and make it readable.

BRR: How is your organisation structured to deliver the research outputs?

ISG: We have close to a hundred employees in the main offices of Islamabad, Karachi, and Lahore. The Karachi office focuses more on media research, corporate sector, consumer research, and specialised studies for the areas of Sindh and Balochistan. Media research is an important part of our work, and advertisers heavily rely on us. The three main offices are all full-service offices, in the sense that they market and generate research, make their own research designs, and then conduct the research. We have 17 other regional field offices, which are only for data gathering. Regional co-ordinators assign roles to the field investigators. This helps us get into action on the ground very quickly.

Our revenues are generated through commissioned work from media research, consumer research, industrial research, etc, and from third-party evaluations. We do not accept any donations. Ours is a purely consulting organisation, and in principle, work like this should be independent. Since 1980, that is the way we have been running the organisation.

BRR: In your view, how does the literacy level in Pakistan impact on the general public discourse around social and economic issues?

ISG: Firstly, let me point out that Pakistan is no longer an illiterate country. Our figures, as well as those of the Government show that more than 90 percent of all our kids under the age of 16 are in school. When we first found this, it surprised me. So we double-checked this and the finding stood. Then I went around the country-side to personally interview people. I was humbled to find out that the ordinary villager knew this; so did the urban slum-dweller. Only the educated elite did not see this transformation. We have since publicised this in a lot of conferences, seminars and talk shows. But it turns out that the lasting image of an 'illiterate Pakistan' is hard to die. So, the Pakistan we talk about is a largely literate country - that it reads Urdu, Sindhi and Pushto, and not English is a different factor.

Secondly, I do not think that debate, analysis, and understanding are the sole prerogatives of literate people. These are endowments with which the creator has endowed all people, though some more than others. One of the greatest prejudices which I have exposed as a researcher is the prejudice of literate people against the illiterate.

Finally, I think that if the level of research is pitched at the wrong level, the blame falls not on ordinary people but on opinion-makers, researchers and media people. If we all do an honest job at picking the right issues, going to sufficient depth, and presenting things honestly, there's no reason why ordinary Pakistanis won't be able to draw the right results and generate the right discourse. As an opinion pollster, I have often been humbled by the wisdom and potential of the common person - I think it is the opinion makers, researchers and media people who need to go one level higher.

In other words I am very optimistic about future of Research and research-led decision making in the country.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2012

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