More often than not, when researchers blog about field work, they write about doing their field work—interviews, participant observation, focus groups—and it is fascinating to read about their adventures and reflections on a hard day’s work. The Duke Human Rights Center at the Franklin Humanities Institute offers such an outlet, where students have written about visiting refugee camps in Lebanon, interviewing Tibetans in Nepal on citizenship, and much more.

My research focuses on the drinking water and wastewater sector in Egypt. Its goal is to: 1) explain the challenges that the state faces in providing such services to citizens who are un-served or under-served, and 2) explain how the state assigns priority to which districts receive services first in light of the criteria that the government uses in choosing which districts receive services.

When I explain this topic to family, friends, and acquaintances who ask about my work, the response is always an excited “That’s so interesting! Who are you going to interview? When do you start your field work?” And so I explain that before field work begins, I need to engage in the less exciting portion of what is anticipated to be a year-long research effort in Egypt: preparing for field work.

Over the past two weeks, I have spent my time creating Excel spread sheets to keep track of the hundreds of background documents that I have acquired, in addition to their content. Quickly skimming these documents has taught me that the state seems to be investing more in building wastewater infrastructure, rather than drinking water infrastructure, across the country. This makes sense given that the average rate of access to the wastewater network is much lower than that of the drinking water network (53.3% vs. 96.8%, respectively).

I have also spent the past two weeks downloading data from the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics, which administers Egypt’s census, on the rates of access to the drinking water and wastewater networks, population size, and population density at the governorate-level (analogous to the state-level in the United States). While I have not yet learned anything from these data since I have not sorted through them, the first question that comes to mind—one that is directly relevant to the dissertation’s first goal of understanding the challenges the government faces in providing drinking water and wastewater services—is whether the delivery of these services has kept up with population growth. This is essential to understand because if Egypt’s population is growing at a pace that is faster than the government’s ability to connect citizens to drinking water and wastewater services, then the state’s development strategy may need to address population growth.

Although reading background documents and sifting through data may be less thrilling than engaging in interviews, the questions and hypotheses that the process raises make me excited to move on to the next phase of research.