Text surveys can keep researchers safe

Surveys conducted via SMS can help keep researchers safe during crises, such as the Ebola pandemic.

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) recently conducted a survey which found that households in two districts in Sierra Leone badly impacted by the Ebola virus are struggling to meet their basic food needs. To cope, they are using severe strategies, such as skipping meals and reducing their portion sizes. It would have been dangerous to let researchers actually go house-to-house in these districts because of the virus, so they used SMS surveys instead.

Speaking to theatlantic.com, Martin Bauer, a food analyst with the WFP, explained how technology can be helpful in these situations.

“Our typical approach involves sending out roving teams of enumerators with clipboards (or handheld devices) to collect data through face-to-face personal interviews with respondents,” he stated. “The process delivers valuable detailed information, but tends to be cumbersome.”

Surveys conducted via mobile, however, allows the WFP to bring in fresh data on a regular basis and report on the results monthly – all without the need for enumerators.

“Reporting at the frequency is logistically complex to do face-to-face under typical operational contexts, even more so in the context of a public health emergency,” he added.

Although mobile phones are more prevalent than landline and broadband networks in developing countries, the Work Bank states that a large proportion of the population does not have access to a mobile phone, reports wfp.org. This suggests that SMS surveys would be best placed working in conjunction with on-the-ground emergency assessments.