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Tales from summer school: Statistics, discussions, and baseball

13 Sep 2015
As part of building the capacity of its network members, Afrobarometer took five fellowship recipients to Ann Arbor, Michigan. Read more about the experience.

Blog post by Isaac Ofosu Debrah


 Isaac Ofosu Debrah is Afrobarometer assistant project manager for anglophone West Africa, based in Accra, Ghana.


As part of building the capacity of its network members, Afrobarometer once again brought five fellowship recipients to Ann Arbor, Mich., to attend the University of Michigan's Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR) Summer School.

While the Michigan weather was gentle and welcoming, our first week was a jungle. The fellows – Rose Aiko from Tanzania, Deolinda Reis from Cape Verde, Samuel Balongo from Kenya, Richard Houessou from Benin, and I – had arrived with a good sense of the modules we wanted to pursue in order to strengthen our skills in statistical analysis methods. Nonetheless, some of us were initially thrown into a floundering confusion given the veritable cornucopia of modules on offer at the ICPSR.

The modules are tremendously rich and intellectually stimulating. Our initial confusion melted away as we immersed ourselves in the sea of statistics. The schedule of coursework was challenging, but the instructors were able to explain things with passion and compassion, and we came away with the ability to apply a variety of statistical techniques to Afrobarometer data sets for both academic and policy audiences – essential skills that we were able to augment. Armed with these newly acquired skills, writing policy and working papers is going to be more fun and effective from the lenses of different analytical perspectives.

Our intellectual curiosity and penchant for asking big questions were further stimulated and satisfied during a lunch with Michigan State University professors Michael Bratton (co-founder and senior adviser to Afrobarometer) and Carolyn Logan (deputy director of Afrobarometer), as well as by hanging out with like-minded and intellectually stellar students. The discussions of African politics and how we could deploy some of the methods learnt to confront the challenges bedeviling the continent’s developmental politics were really thrilling.

We also had the good fortune to meet with the Developmental Idealism (DI) folks at the University of Michigan.Developmental Idealism is a research program to investigate the ideas and theories of social and economic development held by people in everyday life. It’s motivated by the argument that the ideas and theories of development, themselves, have for centuries been powerful forces for social and economic change.As ardent users of Afrobarometer data, the DI team did not hesitate to set up a meeting when they realized we were in town. We were all chuffed to know that in faraway Ann Arbor, people were closely monitoring the activities of AB. That people could quote AB survey questions off the top of their heads was refreshing.

But our fellowship wasn’t all statistics and politics. We got a good taste of the unceasing rivalry between the Michigan State University (MSU) and University of Michigan (UM) football teams (folks at the latter school admitted that they have recently been taking a severe trouncing from the Spartans of MSU). And when Carolyn Logan and her husband, Chuck, offered to take us to a baseball game, we could not resist,even though the closest most of us knew about baseball was its similarity to cricket. We learned as the game went on as the Logans meticulously took us through the rudiments of the game and how it is scored. We enjoyed the game and the glamour with all its razzmatazz and fanfare.

Unfortunately, the team we were all supporting (Detroit Tigers) lost to the Toronto Blue Jays, but we took consolation in the fact that we had learned something new – a refreshing change from soccer, the obsession of most Africans – in addition to the statistical methods and political discussions that will enrich our work for Afrobarometer. And the hot dog was good, too!

Images from the top:

1. Four of the AB fellows at the MSU botanical gardens, from left: Sam, Rose, Deolinda, and Isaac

2. AB fellows with the Developmental Idealism team

3. Richard, left, and Isaac at the Detroit Tigers’stadium (standing in the background is AB Deputy Director Carolyn Logan)