Measuring Difficult Topics

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How to design your questionnaire to measure outcomes that are hard for respondents to remember or estimate?

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Best practice is to rely on objective indicators as much as possible. For example, rather than asking a respondent the size of her agricultural plot, it is better to measure the plot area directly using GPS devices. However, objective measures are often more expensive, and may not always be possible. Below find recommendations and strategies for how to best capture difficult-to-know topics in a questionnaire.


Internal Consistency Checks

How much did you spend in the last week on X? How much did you spend in the last 4 weeks on X?

Multiple Measurements

How many minutes does it take to walk to the grocery store? How many miles away is the grocery store?

Contextual References

In some contexts, it may be hard for respondents to tell you their age, or the year of important life events (e.g. marriage, sexual debut). Providing enumerators with a calendar of significant national events, such as elections (or other change of leadership), political independence, national holidays, notable meteorologic or natural history events (floods, droughts, earthquakes, etc), can be useful in prompting people to estimate.

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This article is part of the topic Questionnaire Design

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