In this chapter, we discuss a research model that combines multiple data collection methods simultaneously to study cause and consequence. This model, referred to as the “micro-demographic community study approach,” combines survey methods, observational methods, and less structured interview methods in a dialectic manner. The method began to spread in demographic research late in the last century, and it has been used to study many different topics across a wide range of settings (Back and Stycos 1967; Bracher, Santow, and Watkins 2004; Caldwell, Hill, and Hull 1988; Kaler and Watkins 2001; Kertzer and Hogan 1989; Kohler, Behrman, and Watkins 2001; Massey et al. 1987; Rutenberg and Watkins 1997; Stycos 1955; Watkins 2000). This simultaneous combination of methods has many advantages, including (1) promoting the investigator's direct involvement at the study site, which improves data quality and enhances the researcher's grasp of the social context; (2) providing multiple types of data, adding depth to the layers of evidence available for testing hypotheses; and (3) fostering a flexibility in the research process, producing insights and possibilities one method alone could not (Axinn, Fricke, and Thornton 1991). We draw on a specific application of the micro-demographic community study approach employed to study social change and the family in Nepal to highlight concrete examples of the three main benefits we see in this method of data collection.
The specific approach described here combines a formal, structured survey operation with a complete, intensive ethnographic investigation throughout every phase of the data collection process.