Research Resources

Survey logistics

Authors
Contributors
Tom Bangura
Nilmini Herath
Harini Kannan
Kathryn McDermott
Summary

Managing a survey is a massive logistical undertaking. This resource, and the other resources under survey data collection, describes the decisions to make and processes to set up in advance to minimize problems in the field. Here, we cover timeline planning, deciding the method of transportation, and setting up relevant contracts, obtaining insurance, and procuring devices. These steps are distilled into sample task lists and timelines linked below.

Other logistical issues included elsewhere are hiring and training surveyors or survey teams, managing field teamspiloting and programming the survey, conducting data quality checks, and setting up procedures to ensure data security.

Timeline planning

While you may already have a general timeline from writing the grant proposal and designing the intervention, you will need to work out additional specifics before launching a survey. To do this, start with the deadline by which you need to complete the survey, and work backward. It can be helpful to create a task list of everything that needs to be done over the course of the survey, including the expected timing, duration, and roles of each team member. 

It is also useful to map out the timeline of key dates such as religious holidays, academic year start/end date, rainy season start/end, and known political events such as upcoming elections. Other specifics you may want to consider include:

  • Timing of relevant events: For example, a study on political participation may require that the baseline be completed before an election date, which requires starting survey activities far enough in advance; a study on education may need surveys at the start and/or end of the academic year; health or nutrition surveys may require avoiding religious fasting months when consumption is atypical; etc.
  • Communicating with local authorities: You may need to get permission to survey from district officials. Plan for this as early as possible, as in some areas you will not be able to begin survey activities before obtaining permission. Printed letters describing the survey activities, with contact information for local contacts and the PIs, can be helpful.  Failure to communicate survey plans with local authorities might delay your field team's from beginning their work.
  • Safety considerations: For example, the J-PAL Africa office does not survey in the week before an election (due to potential political instability) or in the dark (due to other safety considerations such as road safety). If you are working in an area where weather, such as mudslides, may cause dangerous working conditions, factor this in as well. See the resource on field team management for more information on safety concerns. 
  • Limiting seasonal factors or dosage changes that come with time: For example, a treatment may have very different effects if implemented directly after harvest versus during the lean season.
    • Similarly, be sure that treatment and control respondents/areas are surveyed in a balanced manner. Don’t survey all of the controls and then all of the treatment; rather, try to survey them simultaneously and as evenly as possible over the survey period.
  • Time of day or day of the week: Do we need to catch employed people or those with limited availability? Tips for respondent tracking are described below.
  • Regardless of timing, build in contingency days for when things are inevitably delayed. 

Knowing how much time you need to conduct the survey versus how much time you have to conduct the survey will inform many logistical decisions, such as: 

  • Size of field team: This is directly related to expected surveyor productivity and the timeline. From this comes a lot of logistics, such as how many tablets you need, how many cars should be rented, what size training room(s) should you need, etc., so these are decisions that need to be considered early. More on surveyor assignment can be found in the resource on surveyor hiring and training.
  • Additional costs, such as overtime rates for unsociable hours, public transport schedules, private transport if surveyors need to travel at hours when public transport is unsafe, etc.

Setting up a base

Surveyors’ allowances often include food and accommodations expenses, and you should first check your partner's policy on how these costs are allocated. Regardless of whether they are included in the allowance versus paid separately, keep in mind the logistics of organizing accommodations and food:

Accommodations: Where will teams stay? Will they find their own accommodation or will you need to organize it? Are there convenient accommodation options close to the villages you survey, or will teams stay in villages? If the latter, arrangements (mattresses, cooking equipment) will need to be organized. It is advisable for teams to stay together when they need to stay outside their home base. This helps to ensure everyone arrives on time and to coordinate evening meetings when the team comes back. If surveyors make their own accommodation arrangements, consider imposing penalties for late arrivals because it slows down the whole team.

Food: Where will the field team have lunch? How long are surveyors allowed to break in the field? Are there lunch options in the village or will they need to travel far to find food? Encourage teams to pack their own food if there are not many options on-site, or decide in advance to stop en route to the villages to buy food. If hiring vehicles, also consider whether the driver will be responsible for buying their own meals–this is usually covered under the driver’s allowance, but be sure to confirm this first.

Offices: You will need a base where you can store equipment in a safe and secure place, do end-of-day checks, and so on. This may require setting up a remote office, in which case it is important to consider the office location (accessibility and proximity to survey sites, as well as safety of the surrounding area), wifi, phone connections, printers/scanners, back-up power options, and furniture. Note also that you may have to sign a lease.

Transportation

Determining the mode of transportation

How will the teams travel to and within survey locations? You have a couple of decisions to make early on:

  • Will surveyors organize their own transportation (or use public transportation), or will you arrange transportation for the whole team? If the former, surveyors should be given a separate travel allowance; if the latter, they should not. See more below.
  • What is the preferred mode of transportation? Main options are public transit, vehicles, motorbikes, and boats. Some factors to consider are discussed below.
    • In some areas, surveyors may be able to use public transportation exclusively, in which case it may be cheaper and easier logistically not to hire cars. In other areas, public transport costs would impose an undue financial burden on surveyors, may cause delays in surveying, may be unsafe (e.g., for female surveyors after dark in certain areas), or may not even be available. In this case, rented cars or motorbikes should be used.
    • If you rent vehicles, the number needed will depend on where teams are traveling (e.g., you may need a separate vehicle for each team, if each team is going to a different village) and how many people each vehicle can fit.
    • Motorcycles are commonly used when surveyors need to move in smaller teams, or for supervisors or other staff who need to move around independently to monitor survey activities. Here, it is important to map out and analyze costs to reach the enumeration areas; if they vary across the country, transportation allowances should be given out accordingly. As surveyors will be driving motorcycles themselves, you will have less control over whether they follow rules such as driving safely or holding the necessary documents. It is important to stipulate such requirements in the surveyor contract, described further below.
    • In some cases, a boat may be needed to travel to enumeration areas (EAs). It is important to plan for this in advance by mapping out all EAs that may require boat access; the timing and frequency of the need for a boat can be irregular, which affects survey time and respondent tracking.

Contracting vendors for rentals

Hiring vehicles or motorcycles typically involves the following:

  1. Search for and meet with available vehicle hire companies. Local staff (such your field manager, or the local office staff if working with J-PAL/IPA) are a useful resource for learning about vendors used in the past, including the quality of services provided by the vendor
  2. Initial meetings that include inquiring about the cost and policies for hiring the vehicles. For this, you should have an idea of how many vehicles you will need, which will depend on field team size and structure, as well as field site locations. For example, if you have two teams traveling to two different villages in the same day, you will need two separate vehicles. See the resource on surveyor hiring and training for more information to guide field team structure decisions. 
    1. Ensure either before or during the initial meetings that the vendor meets all of the local legal requirements such as holding the required licenses and tax certificates. 
    2. At J-PAL and IPA, some offices may have different contracting requirements (which may be donor-driven). Be sure to consult the policies of your organization's finance team before contracting with vendors. 
  3. Negotiate with contractors and determine the details of the rental contract.1 Your negotiations and the signed contract should include but not necessarily be limited to:
  • Roles and responsibilities of the contractor and contractee: Who is responsible for doing what and when? 
    • If using vehicles, who will hire the driver(s), and what is included in their daily allowance (e.g., do food and accommodation costs come out of the allowance?)
    • Party responsible for covering maintenance or repair costs, including breakdowns
    • What to do in case of accidents
    • Backup plans for major breakdowns that render the car or motorcycle undrivable
    • Form, timing, and frequency of payments
    • Party responsible for purchasing gas
  • Vehicle/motorcycle specifications
    • Per vehicle/motorcycle cost
    • Size of the vehicle and how many passengers each vehicle can fit (note that the vehicle size and the number of teams and team members you need for the survey will determine how many vehicles to hire)
    • Number of vehicles/motorcycles
  • Project-specific logistics
    • The duration of the contract
    • When the vehicle(s) will be available
    • Location of operations (e.g., districts)
  • Availability of vehicle insurance, type, and what is covered in the insurance policy (see more on insurance below)
    • If insurance doesn’t cover passenger injury, consider finding alternative insurance. Some vehicle hire companies have passengers sign a waiver stipulating that the company is not liable for any injury incurred while the passenger is in the vehicle.
  • Penalties for noncompliance or breach of contracts: such penalties may be non-payment or deductions

Be sure to include all of the above details in the signed contract with the car/motorcycle hire firm. While most rental agreements proceed without any problems, it is useful to have everything agreed to in detail and in writing in case something goes wrong. 

Surveyor clauses and transportation payments

Maintenance and fuel costs

Regardless of whether you arrange transportation or have surveyors use their own motorcycles/vehicles, be clear about who is responsible for paying maintenance and fuel costs, as well as the process and documentation required for reimbursement.

If members of the survey team (such as the supervisors if you have hired vehicles, or the surveyors themselves if using their own motorcycles) are responsible, the surveyor/supervisor contracts should include the following:

  • The role of the supervisor/field staff with respect to covering fuel and maintenance costs, including which cases will be reimbursed and the procedures for doing so.
    • For example, you can stipulate that the person responsible for fuel and maintenance costs must keep receipts for all purchases. They should also keep a daily log of areas traveled and mileage covered. You should provide a log for each driver. Be sure to check the logs against receipts.
  • How (and what) to communicate with the field team manager when issues arise. If using a hired vehicle, any problems involving the vehicle assigned to the supervisor, or any other transport problems in the field, should be communicated to the survey management team immediately. Similarly, a member of the survey management team should be informed before any repairs or unplanned expenditures are made.
Allowances and transportation payments
  • If surveyors use their own transport, you will need to make additional stipulations around travel allowances, repair responsibilities, expectations around safety, required documentation, and penalties for failing to adhere to these clauses.
  • If using motorcycles, reimbursement is typically done by distance traveled, though it is best to first check the policy of the finance team at your organization. For example, it can be difficult to ensure that invoices are not counterfeit or incorrect if surveyors are allowed to rent motorcycles on their own. Instead, J-PAL South Asia reimburses the total kilometers traveled for work by bike on a monthly basis, along with enumerators’ monthly stipends, and requires the surveyor to meet local legal requirements such as holding a valid driving license and relevant paperwork.
  • If hiring vehicles, enumerators will not be given transportation allowances as part of their field work. 

You should also decide (and communicate) who will be responsible for within-city or within-district travel, such as travel from the training area to the field office where survey activities will take place and back to the main office when work is complete. This cost depends on whether you have hired vehicles for survey activities that can transport enumerators, as well as the distance enumerators have to travel between these locations. One option is to reimburse enumerators for one-way travel to the project site at the start and the end of the project.

If survey activities are taking place in remote areas where enumerators may not be able to withdraw cash easily, you may need to pay for some transport costs upfront, though policies on doing so will vary by J-PAL/IPA office (if applicable) or survey firm. This requires anticipating approximate costs and working out discrepancies between what was expected versus paid in later reimbursements.

Safety, liability, and penalties

If using motorcycles, you must ensure everyone who will ride one has a helmet. This means renting or purchasing helmets and including in the surveyors’ contracts provisions requiring that helmets be worn at all times while biking, with penalties for not doing so. For example, the J-PAL South Asia contract specifies that 7 days’ salary will be forfeited for the first violation, 14 days’ salary for the second, and firing for the third. You should also specify penalties for failing to properly maintain fuel logs (such as how or even whether surveyors will be reimbursed if they fail to maintain the fuel log, or if the fuel log does not match up with receipts), fail to follow protocols around reimbursement for repairs or other maintenance costs, or fail to return helmets (or bikes) in good condition.

Contracts should also include a clause stating that drivers must carry required documents, such as a valid driving license, all legal paperwork for the motorcycle or vehicle, and any other local legal requirements around owning and using a motorcycle or vehicle, such as insurance, a pollution check certificate (South Asia-specific), and other papers. Overall, be sure to specify in the contract exactly what penalties may be imposed if surveyors fail to follow procedures around safety, liability, documentation, and reimbursement. 

Budgeting and planning for transport costs

It is important to develop a good sense of how long it will take to find a specific respondent. This may vary across the regions, districts, or neighborhoods in your sample. Before fielding the survey, figure out which areas will be the most difficult to find respondents and which will be relatively easier. Consult maps with roads and anyone with local knowledge, from local partners to shop owners. Also, think about how long it will take surveyors to get to the survey area from their accommodation and include this your calculation of the working day. It is tempting to not include travel time in your workday, but you do this at your own peril. Travel time is one of the most common factors that delay a survey (though is information that should be collected during piloting). Building in buffer days will help mitigate delays.

Transportation also comprises a large part of survey costs. Transportation costs will depend on the mode of transportation, your field team size and structure, location of the field sites, and the length of time for which you need transportation. You should be clear in your budgeting and planning how you will pay for transportation (i.e., through a travel allowance to surveyors versus a direct payment to a car rental company). More on budgeting for transportation costs is covered in the grant proposals resource. 

Insurance

Insurance requirements and coverage vary widely, so it is important to check local regulations and with local partners. For example, the Institute for Financial Management and Research (IFMR) and the University of Cape Town both provide some insurance on projects implemented by the J-PAL offices they host. You should check the details of what is available and ensure you are covered on key fronts:

  • Health insurance for enumerators, or some kind of internal process to support care for illness or injury while on the job. This can include hospitalization as well as illness or injury that do not require hospitalization.
  • Life insurance for enumerators, or at least have a plan in place that is communicated to enumerators in their contracts. For example, IFMR provides a modest life insurance policy to all enumerators on J-PAL SA projects.
  • Vehicle insurance: For example, the J-PAL Africa office purchases vehicle insurance through the car hire company. The company offers a range of packages, and the office purchases the most comprehensive option, with costs that aren’t covered paid out of pocket by the project.

It is useful to explain to key senior field staff what insurance actually covers, as the many different types of insurance can be confusing. For example, all enumerators on J-PAL South Asia projects get life insurance through IFMR but do not get accident insurance. 

Materials and devices

The size of the field team will inform how many devices (tablets, phone, GPS trackers, etc.) you need, while the type of survey activities will inform other decisions. See more on field team structures in the surveyor hiring and training resource.

Devices

  • Considerations for purchase of equipment

    • Many projects need to purchase equipment for the field office or to collect anthropomorphic measures such as height, weight, or health indicators. You may also need to buy phones, tablets or other electronics. Pay attention to useful functionalities, such as battery life, GPS tracking ability (for phones or tablets), and durability. You may want to buy covers or other types of protectors to help keep devices safe. Also useful is the ability to wipe respondents’ data remotely if the device is stolen.

    • Make sure you have extra equipment set up for when (not if) things go wrong or break. This includes extra batteries for GPS units: Assume that surveyors will forget to turn devices off and that batteries will not last long. If you have devices that need charging, have back-up chargers (such as power banks) and back-up devices in case you are without electricity.
  • Purchasing process
    • RAs and research managers are typically responsible for purchasing devices, though for high-value items such as HemoCue machines (used to test blood samples) or others used for health surveys, the local finance and administration team may need to be involved.
    • It is useful to have a list of clear and concise specifications before reaching out to vendors, particularly when trying to purchase specialized equipment. As with vehicle rental, ask local staff or field managers about vendors they have used in the past. Many institutions require getting price quotes from three or more vendors.
  • Modify settings before starting the survey
    • Install anti-virus software and set up password protection on applicable types of devices
    • To limit misuse of devices, try to lock apps that are not essential to fieldworkers (e.g., using AppLock)
    • For phone surveys, install recording software (but make sure respondents consent to being recorded and know they can withdraw their consent; see MIT's template consent form (direct downloadother MIT templates) for required statements on this)
    • For GPS units, be sure to set the same coordinate format on all units before sending them to the field so you don’t have to convert them later. 
  • Set up a device tracking system
    • For all equipment going to the field, it is highly recommended to put serial numbers on each piece and have surveyors check them out and check them in regularly for inspection. These machines are often subjected to rough conditions and depreciate quickly. Having surveyors record the serial number of the GPS machine used on each survey can also improve GPS data, as it will help you identify systematic errors in GPS machines.
    • Tracking forms or sign in/out sheets will hold the team accountable and help you track where devices are at any given time; assigning one device to each enumerator will also help with this. This is especially important in electronic surveying as you want to be sure that equipment like phones, PDAs, and tablets are well-taken care of and you can hold the right person accountable if one is lost. 
    • You should take an inventory of your office equipment, including any identifying number (such as the IMEI number for phones, or the serial number for laptops) and condition, at the beginning and end of the survey period to make sure nothing is lost or damaged. 
  • Surveyor contract clauses
    • You should also include in the surveyor’s contract an agreement to take care to protect devices from damage or theft, to return the device to the research team as requested for maintenance or repairs, not to use the device for anything outside of project work, and not to give or lend it to others. The research team should also be contacted immediately if the device malfunctions, needs maintenance or repairs, or is lost. 
    • For J-PAL staff and affiliates: See also J-PAL Africa’s contract on devices between a surveyor and the research team.
  • Equipment storage and maintenance
    • Devices should be stored in a locked office, and devices that require charging should be charged every night. 
    • Buy protective covering for devices, such as cases to protect against damage from being dropped, screen protectors, etc., and install anti-virus software on all devices. 
    • Surveyors should report any issues immediately, and you may also want to check devices regularly to ensure they are working properly.

Other materials

Additional materials for surveyors

Ensure the survey team has all the equipment it needs for the field. This includes:

  • Bags and Folders: For surveyors to organize their questionnaires. Consider getting something durable and waterproof to protect equipment and/or questionnaires
  • Umbrellas/raincoats: If you’re asking your team to work through the rainy season, this can help them persevere through a drizzle
  • Stationery items such as pencils, sharpeners, erasers, and a stapler
  • ID cards for surveyors: This helps surveyors establish credibility when surveying

Respondent gifts

It is standard to give respondents (in both the treatment and control groups) a gift or small compensation in appreciation of their time. Money is sometimes given, but non-monetary gifts are typically preferred unless you are taking someone’s time when they would otherwise be working. Common gifts include sugar, cooking oil, soap, and pencils and sharpeners for school kids. Items for the household are a safe bet because they’re useful no matter which respondent receives the gift. You need to factor in how the team will carry these items on the field, since spillage or leaking may damage surveys or expensive equipment if they’re carried in the same bag. More recently, some projects have started to give mobile phone credits, which is easy to carry around. 

With all gifts, particularly mobile credit, it is important to set up a system to verify that respondents received their gifts and that they were not taken by the surveyors. Consider including a question in your back check survey about receiving the gift or a shorter phone follow up. A local partner will help determine the appropriate level and type of compensation (see more about compensation in the resources on ethics and intake and consent processes). 

Additional considerations

  • Printing consent forms or surveys: Where will you be able to print cheaply? Consider not printing all the questionnaires in one shot in case you need to make changes. 
  • If using paper-based surveys, make sure you print extra surveys and give them to surveyors.
  • Make logistics contingency plans for the big uncertainties. For example, if some villages may be inaccessible after big storms due to washed out roads, have flexibility in the schedule so you can visit different villages when those are inaccessible, and return to those villages once the roads are passable.
  • Set up respondent tracking and replacement protocols and communicate them to surveyors before surveying begins. 

Last updated June 2020.

These resources are a collaborative effort. If you notice a bug or have a suggestion for additional content, please fill out this form.

Acknowledgments

We thank Maya Duru, Mike Gibson, and James Turitto for helpful comments. All errors are our own.

1.
See also J-PAL South Asia's template car rental contract (accessible by J-PAL staff and affiliates only)
Additional Resources
Resources
  1. Awatramani, Vipin, 2019. "Field team management." Delivered at 2019 J-PAL/IPA Research Staff Training. (J-PAL internal resource)

  2. J-PAL Africa, n.d. "Equipment liability form." (J-PAL internal resource)

  3. J-PAL South Asia, n.d. "Vehicle hire contract." (J-PAL internal resource)

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