Now testing: online surveys

first question in the surveyPrevious posts in this blog have described how WFP’s mVAM project implements mobile surveys using text messages, voice calls and interactive voice response. This month, we tried something different: online surveys. We’ve been curious for a while about the possibility of delivering surveys straight to people’s desktops or smartphones. While it’s clear that only a small minority of people in developing countries have access to mobile broadband (for more information see the World Bank’s ‘Digital Dividends’ report), more and more people are getting connected. In fact, the exponential growth of global internet access means that in a few years online surveys could become a viable tool for measuring food security. We were therefore looking for a way of testing out our ideas.

Here’s how it happened. There has recently been a drought in Haiti that has caused rising food prices, so a number of assessments have taken place to estimate the drought’s impact on the population’s food security. However, these assessments have only focused on estimating the drought’s impact on rural areas in a country where more than half of the population lives in an urban setting. At the same time, Haiti is also experiencing rapid inflation and political instability, factors that could increase food insecurity, particularly in urban areas. We therefore started looking for a way of monitoring food security dynamics in Haiti’s capital: Port-au-Prince. On investigation, it seemed like our standard tools like SMS or voice calls would take a long time to set up and we needed the information as soon as possible. The result? We had the perfect opportunity to test out online surveys.

We designed a 10 question online survey that asks people about their perceptions of the food security situation in greater Port-au-Prince. It’s administered through RIWI, a company based in Canada. Their methodology involves showing surveys on links that are broken or that no longer exist. Instead of seeing the broken link, people see an invitation to start a survey. These randomly selected people then see and click/swipe through the survey on their desktop, laptop or mobile phone.

Of course when using online surveys there is bias towards well-educated, urban and better off respondents. But this meant it might just work as a way of reaching out to respondents in Haiti’s capital city. We adjusted our techniques to this urban setting, so rather than attempting to conduct a ‘representative’ survey we simply asked people to comment on food security in their communities. This means they answered qualitative questions about their perceptions of food prices, migration, and other issues.

 haiti survey prix nourriture

One of the great things about online surveys is their flexibility. We were able to have two versions of the questionnaire, one in French and one in Creole, as people just select the language on the landing page. We were also able to insert pictures that people see when they are asked a question. For example, we used the picture below to help people understand our question about the price of a serving of spaghetti (a cheap street food in Port-au-Prince).  

spaghetti in survey

Survey responses are also geolocated, and we’re able to know what operating system people are using to answer our questions. We can then use this information to better understand the socio-economic profile of the respondent. Results are now coming in and we will tell you what we learn!


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