Dan Szuc (writing on behalf of the whole Apogee team, including Jo and Hok) relates a familiar experience about equipment failure, highlighting the importance of improvisational problem solving and supportive team dynamics.
We were on on the train in Shanghai on our way to visit a person in their home as part of a research project. Doing random checks of all equipment becomes second nature, ensuring that you have backups of backups, cables work correctly, sound is being recorded correctly and video is working well.
We all have specific roles on home visits where. Hok and I capture both the interview and surrounds on film using Flip cameras, Jo is responsible for speaking with the person we are visiting to ensure that they are comfortable and Hok also is our guy for ensuring all the equipment is technically working well (and if something is not working well he usually knows how to fix it).
So back to the train ride in Shanghai…the three of us were together, testing the recorder, cable and microphone. We realized on conducting a few test recordings that there were clear breaks in the recording when playing it back. We realized this was caused during the previous interview as we needed to go through a security scanner at a train station with the participant (as part of the journey we were filming). The cable connecting the recorder and the bag were stretched going through security unnecessarily, possibly causing damage to the wires.
We tested various places where we thought the sound might be breaking up – the connectors, the microphone and the cable itself. We wanted to get this right because the microphone clips onto the person we are interviewing and ensures that we have clear audio (in addition to the audio that’s captured on the video using the Flip cameras). We did not have time to go to an electronics store to get new equipment and were relieved that the audio recorder itself was working well and could serve as a (non-ideal) backup microphone.
Together, we needed to come up with a plan to ensure that we could capture the same level and quality of audio as in the other people’s stories captured to date in Shanghai. Consistent film quality is an important part of the storytelling. We tried a few configurations using the cables, rubber bands and microphone. We eventually worked out a way to place the microphone close enough to the participants chin so that the audio would come through clearly, and discarded what we had determined was the faulty cable.
On reflection, it taught us all the importance of team work, thinking quickly about solutions, not blaming when things sometimes go wrong, trying out various configurations whilst on the move and planning ahead to have some other cables/equipment available if there are failures. Not everything goes according to plan in field research, but having a calm head and a team who works together makes for a nicer working environment and a huge difference in the overall results. Happy researchers equals happy participants equals nice stories equals lots to learn from.