The Diaries method was initially developed by David Hulme at the University of Manchester in collaboration with Stuart Rutherford and resulting in the pathbreaking study ‘The Poor and their Money’ (Rutherford, 2000). The method has been applied in Bangladesh, India, and South Africa (Collins et al. 2009), in Malawi, Kenya, Uganda, Zambia, Papua New Guinea, Myanmar, El Salvador, Guatemala, India, Cambodia, and Bangladesh (Microfinance Opportunities and www.workerdiaries.org in case of the last three countries), in the United States (Morduch and Schneider, undated), in Mozambique, Pakistan, and Tanzania (Anderson and Ahmed 2016), and in Scotland, and has been applied in a pilot project in Canada (Buckland et al. 2013).
It is variously fashioned – sometimes more quantitative-focused and sometimes using mixed methods – to intensively track participant household finances for a period of time in order to understand the financial reality of low-income and vulnerable middle-income households that may otherwise be poorly understood through standard research methods.
In addition to the Financial Diaries, this research includes two other components: regulation research and practitioner research. All three components employ a mixed methodology, drawing on quantitative and qualitative methods. The Financial Diaries is the largest component; the regulation and practitioner research will both emerge from and inform the Financial Diaries component.
In collaboration with Microfinance Opportunities, this project is developing a unique Financial Diaries methodology that will use mixed methods, involving different educational interventions, and a “burst” design. The burst design, choosing key periods in the year (e.g., around key holidays) instead of tracking participants’ data year-round (Stawski et al. 2016), reduces the data collection requirements and enable the project to collect data for several years. The mixed method approach includes surveys, interviews, focus groups, and participatory workshops. The core quantitative Diary questions asks participants to report, on a weekly basis, about income, spending, saving, and borrowing. Monthly and quarterly interviews asks participants to reflect on their finances, the Diaries process, and how these relate to their life goals. These interviews involve open-ended questions in which participants can share about challenges and opportunities with their finances, discuss how the Diaries process is affecting them (or not), and share about their longer-term financial and life goals. Focus group discussions will be scheduled after each burst period to hear from groups’ more collective thoughts about financial challenges and how these might be addressed through changed practice or policy.