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. It includes topics specific to in-person data collection as well as those that apply regardless of survey medium. 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 teams, piloting and programming the survey, conducting data quality checks, and setting up procedures to ensure data security.
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 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.
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:
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- If surveyors are conducting surveys remotely (i.e., via phone), the research team should provide airtime payments as part of surveyor allowance.
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 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.
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 download; other 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. Note that if enumerators are conducting remote surveys, the device tracking system may need to be modified to account for the fact that enumerators will keep the devices for longer periods of time. See the remote survey section below for more information.
- 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.
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
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 in 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).
Respondent and survey tracking
Respondent tracking involves ensuring surveyors will 1) find the respondent, 2) confirm it’s the right respondent, and 3) communicate this information back to the research team. This information is useful for a couple of different purposes:
- Adjusting the survey timeline if a number of respondents need to be replaced or are difficult to find and the survey is delayed.
- Helping ensure data quality by ensuring the right respondents are reached.
- Providing insight into response rates and missing modules by differentiating between respondents who could not be reached/found and those who refused to respond.
- Improving accuracy of surveyor productivity estimates( e.g., did a surveyor complete a low number of surveys because they couldn’t find the respondents?)
Decisions on how respondents can be tracked, how many revisits can be made, and how respondent replacement will occur should not be left to surveyors. These protocols should be communicated during surveyor training (and repeatedly throughout the survey) to ensure they are consistently followed. Field teams should understand:
The overall tracking strategy
- What information do you want to track? This should be as much as is needed for efficient decision making. It could include: households, members of the households, modules completed, or information on partial completion
- Decide in advance how many times surveyors will revisit respondents that could not be found
- Determine replacement rules that make sense for the project phase:
- In a baseline survey, you may want to replace people who died or permanently moved away. Set up clear rules for when and how to replace respondents. For example, if surveyors need to survey 10 households in a village, consider giving them a list of 12 randomly selected households with instructions to find the first 10. This gives them 2 replacement households. If more than 2 households are gone, they have to come back to you to get more replacement households.
- In an endline survey, the goal is to find everyone from the baseline to preserve the panel. Deciding whether to find and survey respondents who have moved will depend on the survey budget and level of attrition you are comfortable with.
The roles and responsibilities with regards to tracking
- Surveyors collect the tracking information. They need to understand the type of information to collect, the desired level of detail, and how it should be recorded. For example, this could include landmarks, directions from landmarks, and house color. Examples are helpful. Surveyors should have a set schedule for reporting tracking statistics to field managers or supervisors.
- Field managers or supervisors verify that a respondent is unable to be surveyed and should be replaced. They need to know when to make replacements and where to draw replacements from.
How to track
- Field teams will utilize assignment sheets, tracking sheets, and a master tracking sheet to manage the process.
- An assignment sheet contains identifying information for all respondents that need to be surveyed. This includes unique respondent ID, respondent name, village name, etc. It is used by supervisors/monitors to assign surveys to a particular surveyor on the day of the field activity.
- A tracking sheet or module records key information about the respondent and survey status. For example, a module in the baseline survey could collect information on:
- Phone/mobile number of respondent2
- GPS coordinates, directions/landmarks to household, or hand-drawn maps
- Location of business or temporary address if applicable
- Name of household head
- Where respondents are and when they will return (differentiating between those who can never be found such as deceased respondents versus those who can be surveyed at some point in the future).
- Information from people who know the respondent
- Modules completed and/or information on partial completion
- Details to plan revisits better (e.g., making a scheduling plan)
- Other details to increase efficiency (e.g., whether there are certain holidays during which people who have migrated away return)
- A master tracking sheet summarizes the surveyor-wise daily field activity, such as total surveys attempted, surveys completed, revisits required etc. This provides the overall progress of survey activities.
Implementation tips include:
- Get to know the schedule of an area, such as which day is market day--when people will likely be hard to find.
- Ensure tracking details are updated in the field. Involve the respondents in updates to information, such as changes in phone number or the list of contacts who will know where they are.
- For endline surveys, it can be useful to send mobilizers before the survey team to find respondents and schedule interview appointments to save time.
- Review the tracking data soon after it is collected so that contradictions or points of confusion can be rectified while still fresh in surveyors’ memories.
- Compile the tracking data and either enter or upload it to a database for later use.
- 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.
- Establish channels of communications with survey teams to report logistical concerns. Surveyors should know who to contact and how to contact them in case of problems. Consider what technology field staff will have access to while in the field (e.g., they may only have access to a mobile phone).
- 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.
The above logistics guidelines can be modified for remote surveys, with the following (non-exhaustive) considerations:
- Airtime payments: If surveying is done via phone, ensure surveyors have sufficient airtime to complete the interview prior to starting it. This requires developing and testing a system for distributing airtime payments to surveyors prior to survey launch. Airtime payments can also be a particularly relevant gift for respondents in remote survey contexts.
- Device tracking: Any additional devices given to enumerators to help them perform surveys remotely should be tracked as described above. If surveyors are conducting their surveys from a fixed location (e.g., their house), it may be possible to have surveyors keep the device for extended periods of time. Consider having surveyors take photos of the devices periodically to demonstrate they still have them. Alternatively, researchers can have surveyors periodically fill out a short survey on platforms such as SurveyCTO, which record a unique ID for each device, to determine if the surveyors still have the correct devices. Surveyors should understand when these checks will occur, and there should be incentives for completing the checks or penalties for failing them.
- Additional equipment: It can be difficult for enumerators to use the same device to both call respondents and enter their responses. If feasible, consider providing enumerators a second device for data entry (e.g., a simple mobile phone for conducting interviews and a web-enabled tablet for recording data). Providing enumerators with wifi hotspots can help ensure data collection proceeds smoothly, while headsets and microphones can improve audio quality and make enumerators’ jobs easier.
- Tracking sheets: With remote surveys, tracking sheets should be modified to record information on each call attempt, including: the day of week, time of day, language spoken by the person answering the call and call status (e.g., answered by a household member, answered by the respondent, unanswered, etc.). During the survey piloting period, create an exhaustive list of why calls were unsuccessful to include as options for the call status. Example call status codes can be found in J-PAL’s Transitioning to CATI checklist.
- Scheduling calls: During the piloting phase, consider the days of the week and times of day when response rates were highest, and plan for the bulk of surveys to take place during these times. Provide enumerators with a schedule of respondents to call during these days and times, but allow them to make calls on off-peak hours if needed.
- Replacement protocols: Create protocols for how many times enumerators should attempt to call a respondent before moving on.This number should be higher than the number of times enumerators would try in an in-person survey (e.g., as many as nine calls). More information can be found in the J-PAL’s Transitioning to CATI checklist.
Last updated March 2021.