Stories about Water and SWIM

SWIM, or Shallow Wells International Management helps people dig their own wells in the dry area north of Nairobi, Kenya.

They collected over 250 stories in the last 3 months in Nyahururu, Liakipia, Raikipia, Nyeri, and rural areas around Mt. Kenya. In spite of how we explicitly trained the scribes (who are supposed to collect 2 stories about two different community efforts), this wordle of stories reveals that most are about SWIM, and water:

The pattern of these narratives (provided in file below) is also lacking in diversity. They are formulaic and repetitive, narrowly describing how SWIM has come in and helped them provide water.

I met the SWIM staff today along with some people who work for a local TV station. The TV guy had to go out and get his own narratives about how lives had changed as a result of the wells because SWIM’s own narratives lacked any of that type of information. This underscores why it is so important to get people to speak to more open ended questions, despite their personal preference to retell a sort of “standard” narrative along the lines of “Organization X helps us. We love Organization X.” These messages are counterproductive, and in this specific case, cause time and money to be wasted trying to gather extra narratives to produce a television documentary.

Here is a wordle of all 1500+ stories from across Kenya and Uganda that mention the word WATER:

The diversity of other topics intersecting with water is much greater, and potentially more informative. These 1500+ stories were generally collected by people who did not have a close relationship with just one, solitary NGO such as SWIM that focuses on only one type of community development. The image speaks for itself.

This example provides evidence that qualitative data is not inherently less useful, but narratives are less useful when the people collecting them influence what gets talked about.

Download and read the stories:

SWIM stories (or stories mentioning Liakipia, Raikipia, or Nyahururu)


Case study continued: Examples from the automatic self-bias detector

One thought on “Stories about Water and SWIM

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