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  • 00:14

    MADHU VISWANATHAN: My name is Madhu Viswanathan.[Madhu Viswanathan, PhD, Professor of Business,University of Illinois] I have a PhDin marketing from the University of Minnesota, and I'vebeen a professor at the University of Illinoisat Urbana Champaign for 29 years.I will be early retiring from thereand joining Loyola Marymount University this fall.[What are your research interests and what project will

  • 00:35

    MADHU VISWANATHAN [continued]: you be discussing?]

  • 00:39

    MADHU VISWANATHAN: My research interestsare in measurement and research designand in subsistence marketplaces.I have what I call left brain and right brain researchprojects.My left brain project, which I wouldlike to describe as one on writinga book on measurement error and research design with Sage.

  • 00:59

    MADHU VISWANATHAN [continued]: I really believe that's the most minute dissectionof measurement error, more from the sideof designing measures rather than the statistical side.My right brain research has been moreon looking at people with the broad range of low incomein many different countries.I pioneered an area that I called subsistencemarketplaces, where we take a bottom up approach

  • 01:20

    MADHU VISWANATHAN [continued]: to people living in poverty.We try to understand how they think,how they feel, how they relate, howthey engage in the marketplace as customers and entrepreneurs.I'm going to be talking today about that entire streamand the variety of methods I have used in pursuing it.[How did you formulate your research question?]

  • 01:41

    MADHU VISWANATHAN: For many years,I used to work on how consumers use numbers and words,and at one point I started thinkingthat many of the people we meet actuallydon't have the ability to read or to count.And so many people don't use, for example,nutritional labels, so I started looking beyond literacy

  • 02:02

    MADHU VISWANATHAN [continued]: and resource barriers at people, for example, in the US,and the problems they face as customers.So until then I used to do a lot of experiments and surveys,and I continue to do them, but howdo you study people with low literacy?So we started going to adult education centers,we started interviewing people, westarted taking them shopping, we tutored people, and so on.

  • 02:23

    MADHU VISWANATHAN [continued]: So it became a lot more of right brain and qualitative researchapproaches as well.I was saying, is it possible to do work,to do research that can help the communities we study?So we started looking at low literate, low income consumersin the US, and we found how differentthey are in the way they think and so on.I slowly expanded this to India and then later

  • 02:43

    MADHU VISWANATHAN [continued]: on to several other countries like Tanzania, a refugeesettlement in Uganda, Honduras, Mexico, Argentina, and so on.Part of what I did was the research,and here we've used a variety of different methods, interviews,observations, immersion in the context.We have designed experiments, field experiments, surveys,and so I really used the entire range of methods.

  • 03:05

    MADHU VISWANATHAN [continued]: From this kind of research where Ihave field teams in different countries,we also created a social enterpriseon marketplace literacy.Skills and knowledge, self-confidence,and awareness of rights for people with low income.I really believe they need that to function as customersand as entrepreneurs.And there again, we used a variety of methodsto understand them.

  • 03:26

    MADHU VISWANATHAN [continued]: We used qualitative approaches to see what people learn.We used surveys, pre and post surveys.We use ability tests.We realized that they had a lot of difficultyin having a deeper understanding of the marketplace,something I take for granted, because I have a verygood education, and so on.And we designed a very bottom up educational program for them

  • 03:47

    MADHU VISWANATHAN [continued]: where we emphasize the know why.Why should I be a good customer?Why should I choose this business, and so on.And finally, the third piece of the puzzlewants to bring this into the curriculum.So I teach a variety of courses on subsistence marketplaces,on a bottom up approach that we have created,and there, my students do virtual interviews.

  • 04:07

    MADHU VISWANATHAN [continued]: They do actual immersion in the context.We reach about 1,000 students on campus and many more online.And so wonderful that I'm actuallytalking to Sage, who gave me the first opportunityto write about measurement and research design.[How did you recruit participantsfor your research?]

  • 04:26

    MADHU VISWANATHAN: It's very difficultto sit back and send a survey outto people who typically won't respond to it because they'relow literate and have low income.So we went to adult education centers in the US.We would often take people from their shopping,we would go there and do interviews,or we would meet them at the grocery store.Now, of course, if you're are doing experiments or surveys,

  • 04:46

    MADHU VISWANATHAN [continued]: we would go to the adult educationcenters in central Illinois and conduct our surveysright there, then on to what we do in the rest of the world.As I said, we are a symbiotic academic social enterprise,so we work in the very communitieswhere we do research.We provide this marketplace literacy education,we are very embedded in the communities.For example, in South India, I have women field coordinators

  • 05:09

    MADHU VISWANATHAN [continued]: all over the city of Chennai.They form self-help groups of women.There are about 2,000 women who come together and solvea variety of issues.In the villages, we have women and menas coordinators in different village hubsfrom which they go out to 25 or 50 villages.So in many ways, our social enterpriseembeds us in the community.Same thing in a refugee settlement

  • 05:31

    MADHU VISWANATHAN [continued]: in Uganda or in Tanzania, and so on.Now that is a separate promise.That's not because we can then do research.I don't believe in that.I really believe that our separate promiseis to serve the community, but we also thenhave the ability to do research.We have the ability to take our students there.We have the ability to have our executivesdo virtual interviews online, and so forth.

  • 05:52

    MADHU VISWANATHAN [continued]: And so it's very integrated for me.The methods that we use and these three different arenasin which I believe I can serve as a professor.[How did you collect and analyze the data?]

  • 06:07

    MADHU VISWANATHAN: I have been doing qualitative researchfor now about 22 years.I'm not trained in it, so in many ways I learned by doing.And I learned to peel the onion I'm stillnowhere as good as somebody who's been trained in it,and so that really involves looking at the data,revisiting, discussing it with co-authors,discussing it with team members, and trying to really understand

  • 06:30

    MADHU VISWANATHAN [continued]: at a deeper level. and first of all,believe in what I am saying because we do havea natural bias, which is to find something,and we've got to stop and say, no, wait a minute.I may want to find it, but is it really there, right?And so I think with qualitative research,it's been just wonderful to paint a picture,but keep going deeper into the picture and asking ourselves,are we just being descriptive?

  • 06:51

    MADHU VISWANATHAN [continued]: And can we enrich both what we are learningand show it through supporting evidence?I think I think of it as theory, method, and substance.So substance-wise, we're out there.We're looking at low income.Theory-wise, we are generating theory.So method-wise, I need to find some ways in which wecan draw a parallel.So for example, when we do field experiments,

  • 07:12

    MADHU VISWANATHAN [continued]: I take urban low income women, and then I say,OK, let me look at three levels of incomewithin that low income.Let me look at literacy, let me cross that,and so people are basically being comparedon some kind of experimental basis,and then we introduce some of the thingsthat we are trying to study.For example, we may see the effect of our own education,

  • 07:33

    MADHU VISWANATHAN [continued]: and so we conduct field experiments like that.But surveys, there's a lot of complexitywith translating surveys, seeing if it makes sense, and so on.In a conservative culture, it's very importantnot to ask a woman about romance.We ask about affection, and particularly,if you have male interviewers, you

  • 07:53

    MADHU VISWANATHAN [continued]: need to be very sensitive to those kinds of things.So things may not translate directlyfrom a survey that's been originally developedin English, so we do things like that.We sometimes create measures as well.We need to be very careful about strongly agree and stronglydisagree scales going from one to seven.Our students are used to responding to those,

  • 08:14

    MADHU VISWANATHAN [continued]: but this is a very alien context for somebody living in poverty.And so we have to explain to them, well,do you agree or disagree?And then if you agree, can you fine tune it a little bit more?So we've learned to do things like that.We do have a fear that people won't understand and justsay, you know what, yes, yes, or something like that.Get into the same response mode.

  • 08:35

    MADHU VISWANATHAN [continued]: And that's where I'm very proud of my teams.They serve the community, and they conduct research,and I've had field teams now for almost two decades,for example, in South India.I have a field team in Tanzania, and so on.And so those are some of the issues.Even with qualitative research and with interviews,you have to be careful about some of the norms.One could say confidentiality and sit in a locked room,

  • 08:58

    MADHU VISWANATHAN [continued]: but you have to remember the sensitivities there.So we'll often go to a women's center,and we'll sit in a place where others are walking by,but at the same time, we have some confidentiality.You can go to a village and ask somebody in the public sphere,how do you shop?And three other people will tell you how that person shops,you know?So you have to negotiate those issues.But I do want to say we go far and beyond institutional review

  • 09:21

    MADHU VISWANATHAN [continued]: board requirements.Those are literal, but we need to go beyond that,and that's a very good starting point, IRB and so on,but we go well beyond that in making sure people understandwhat consent means, and so on.And so it's a very complex set of issues,but it's very challenging, and I learn a lot from it.[What were your findings and how did you present them?]

  • 09:46

    MADHU VISWANATHAN: And so, I remember in 1997after taking a group of people shopping,I thought, wow, the things I take for granted.Today, I would say the things I take for granted are not justmy material resources.They are my ability to think and abstract and understandwhat a customer is, understand what a value chain is,understand what an exchange is, understand value, as in what

  • 10:07

    MADHU VISWANATHAN [continued]: do I give and what do I get, and so on.Understand what a business is.These are all abstractions actually for many people,so I take for granted my ability to think in abstract.One woman once told me after taking my education,I never thought of myself as a customer until I took this.Until then, I thought I am somebody who buys and here'ssomebody who sells.

  • 10:27

    MADHU VISWANATHAN [continued]: We take those things for granted.I take for granted my self-confidence.I take for granted the fact that if I go shopping,if I don't have enough money, no big deal, I forgot.It's just a transaction.There are people for whom even that simple interaction canbe very challenging, because they feel like they'll beexposed for their low literacy.

  • 10:48

    MADHU VISWANATHAN [continued]: I take for granted my ability to behavein different ways in different settings and cope.For many people, that can be quite difficult.They are certainly experts at survival, but not necessarilyin the world that I live in, and so those are some issues.So in some ways, I would say that Ilike to describe poverty by just describing my typical day.

  • 11:08

    MADHU VISWANATHAN [continued]: I got to Toronto yesterday.I got to DC yesterday.I'm staying in a different hotel, and then I came over.I like my cup of coffee, and it turned out it was in a chainthat I had missed for a while because I was traveling.I got that cup of coffee, I took Uber, I came over,I put my luggage away, everything worked for me.My life is full of certainties, and that's one thing I have.

  • 11:30

    MADHU VISWANATHAN [continued]: The other thing I have is if something doesn't work,I have a fallback.If the Uber broke down, I could have e-mailed youand gotten another cab.So I have a margin of error.I have a fallback or a cushion.If you take away my certainty, and if you take awaymy margin of error, you have poverty in day to day life.How am I going to get the next meal?

  • 11:50

    MADHU VISWANATHAN [continued]: What's the cooking fuel going to be like?What is the quality of the water?And so on.And so I would describe poverty in those terms having neverexperienced it.[What tools and resources are helpful for a studentor researcher looking to do something similar?]

  • 12:08

    MADHU VISWANATHAN: I would say be open to a variety of methodsand understand that methods are a means.And they're a means to an end, and the endis deeper understanding.Now that doesn't mean you use all the different methodsin one paper, because I view a paper in a journal as moreof a funnel.You take broad things and you funnel it in.

  • 12:29

    MADHU VISWANATHAN [continued]: In that context, I think it's better to emphasize one method,because you can go deep enough.Otherwise, you have two papers.You could do qualitative research in an in-depth way,and maybe there is some quantitative to describesome of the sample, and so on.But another road to think about isto think of papers as more of a program of research,

  • 12:50

    MADHU VISWANATHAN [continued]: and use a variety of different methodsto achieve that end, particularlyin painting a big picture for yourselfand then going to parts of the picture.


Madhu Viswanathan, PhD, Professor of Business at the University of Illinois, discuss his mixed-methods research on poverty, literacy, and subsistence marketplaces.

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Researching Poverty, Literacy, & Subsistence Marketplaces Using Mixed Methods

Madhu Viswanathan, PhD, Professor of Business at the University of Illinois, discuss his mixed-methods research on poverty, literacy, and subsistence marketplaces.

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