Structuring a Survey Pilot

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In order to conduct a successful survey pilot, the research team must discuss the structuring of a survey pilot.. This involves agreeing upon the logistics (practical considerations) like duration, approvals, review sessions, and training. It is important to discuss each of these aspects in detail to ensure that the survey pilot helps improve the quality of the data collection process and the survey protocols.

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Duration of the Pilot

  • Pilot until there are no more substantial changes to be made. Field plan will depend on:
    • Extent of changes to be made
    • Availability of printing facilities (if paper pilot) in the area where you are piloting.
    • Where the pilot location is (if far from home-base, and teams are staying in the area, breaking for a full day may not be practical / cost-effective)


Check what approvals are needed. Sometimes local IRB approval is required even for a pilot. A letter of support from the relevant Ministry or implementing partner always helps.

  • Consider obtaining IRB approval before the pilot (when an IRB is needed). When you are developing new instruments, there are some opportunities for publication even at the piloting level. The PIs will know when this is a possibility. This requires further planning but it can be well worth it.

Review Sessions

for feedback and revision

  • Plan time for group feedback and discussion sessions at the end of each day.
    • Make sure all voices heard at feedback sessions (especially if age/ gender/ ethnicity differences)
    • Finish fieldwork early so there is time to debrief. You will get better feedback if the team is not tired and hungry!
  • Plan sufficient time to make revisions each evening, and pilot again the next day
    • If logistically feasible, best to pilot every other day (otherwise all-nighters are common)
    • For pen-and-paper pilots, make sure you will have access to a printer to make and share revisions in real time.
      • Depending on context, using research budget to purchase a printer the FC can travel with may be necessary/ cost-effective.
  • Be aware of the need for careful version control: If the survey is in a language the FC doesn't understand, it can be tricky to keep track of daily changes in both local language and English version.
    • Best to work with an assistant who speaks the local language to make the edits in that version of the survey while the FC makes them in the English version.
    • Ideally this is someone other than an enumerator (they should go rest so they're fresh for the pilot on the following day, and end of the day edits can go well into the night if piloting needs to happen the next morning)


  • Length of training depends completely on complexity of instrument and survey protocols. 1-day minimum.
  • Interviewers must be familiar with the instrument and the objectives of the pilot by the end
  • Interviewers will have useful insights and feedback on the survey instrument at the training itself. Plan time to incorporate their feedback/ make revisions before starting the actual pilot
  • Build in a minimum of 1 day between training and the start of the piloting
  • For data-focused pilots, essential to have interviewers do mock interviews with each other to familiarize themselves with programming, and catch any bugs missed in office tests.

Follow-up surveys

  • If you will be ‘pre-loading’ data during the survey (e.g. from a baseline survey), you will need to simulate this during the pilot.
    • If you have reduced the sample size from previous rounds, you can use non-sampled households for whom baseline data exists.
    • Otherwise you may need to do ‘pre-interviews’ one day ahead to collect basic indicators for pre-loading. This is logistically challenging, but very worthwhile!

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This article is part of the topic Survey Pilot

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