Anyone Can Be A Superhero: Creating a Comic book on Antimicrobial Resistance with Students in India
By Sara Dada and Kiron Jones
A superhero comic book which educates students about antimicrobial resistance (AMR)? Researchers Sara Dada and Kiron Jones reflect on their project and the challenges of field research in India.
The longer we wandered around the main road between the military hospital and the residential apartment blocks, the quicker the intensity of the rain grew. What started out as a light drizzle was quickly resembling the more typical rains of Pune during monsoon season. With every unanswered phone call as we struggled to find the location of our first focus group, the challenges of conducting fieldwork became more and more apparent.
It was the first day of research to create a superhero comic book to educate students about AMR in India. Our story follows an adolescent woman, her younger brother and their pet chicken after their mother falls ill. With the help of a nifty gadget, the siblings learn about AMR. They find out more about its drivers and behaviour change that can reduce the growing spread of drug-resistant pathogens.
Before heading to the field, we spent time preparing materials, recruiting Indian illustrators and identifying schools where we could test our comic. We had to quickly get to grips with the academic literature around graphic design, visual semiotics and storytelling in the context of biomedicine.
Over the course of the week, we visited eight schools and held 14 focus groups with students aged 10 – 14. These schools ranged from temporary sites for the children of migrant workers to private schools for middle-class families. We discussed what they did when they fell ill and what types of comic books and superheroes they liked. We also talked about their opinions on the illustrations and their thoughts on our potential storyline. One of the most important aspects of this process was the iterative nature of our focus group questions. As we spoke to more students, we implemented changes to our focus group protocol that sparked more interesting and insightful responses.
One of the challenges in preparing for fieldwork can be building relationships and scheduling appointments remotely. Between the time difference and nature of email correspondence, it was difficult to confirm plans and objectives with schools and illustrators. When we got to the field, we experienced a similar challenge in communicating back to the UK office. To a certain extent, this type of project work requires both initiative and perseverance to get things done.
Other fieldwork frustrations that are often underrated include getting lost in an unfamiliar city. Or being unable to reach or communicate with partners and last minute cancellations that throw plans out the window. One of the challenges our project faced was the time we would require to develop and test a full comic book. This process would typically take several iterations and months to complete, while we only had seven days in the field. Additionally, the involvement of translators influenced the flow of some focus group discussions and the resulting data.
An important factor to our success was the willingness and enthusiasm of the people we met. When confronted with a last-minute cancellation, we could walk into a school, introduce ourselves and set up focus groups. The schools’ willingness to collaborate and build partnerships was unexpected but vital. They were excited about the project and invested in its future. Finally, the engagement and passion of the students led to interesting and sometimes humorous responses. Their excitement for the project made collecting the data easy and fun!
This project highlighted the importance of local engagement in research. The insights from the students and teachers play an invaluable role in developing an impactful and relevant final product. These connections in the field are a vital aspect of our work and stretch beyond our time in Pune. We are excited to apply the feedback we received and share the final AMR comic book with the schools and students we met in Pune as well as those across India when it’s published.
It is difficult to predict the experiences you will face in the field. Unforeseen obstacles are sure to arise, but other aspects of fieldwork may be surprisingly easy to manage. Looking back, we came in as prepared as we could have been. Our enthusiasm and resourcefulness allowed for a productive and positive week. Moving forward, this experience has reminded us of the value of engaging with the communities that we hope to serve through international development research.
About the Authors
Kiron Jones is Coordinator and Researcher at the Leverhulme Centre for Integrative Research on Agriculture and Health (LCIRAH).