Survey Protocols

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Survey Protocols define how the survey will be implemented.

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Clear protocols ensure that fieldwork is carried out consistently across teams and/or regions, and are important for Reproducible Research. All protocols should be tested in the Survey Pilot and final protocols recorded in the Enumerator Manual. All Survey protocols should be shared with the Survey Firm or implementing agency early in the process, and taught to all field staff as part of the Enumerator Training.


Respondent Selection

Who is the target respondent for the interview? If that individual is not available, is there an adequate substitute? For example, for an agricultural survey, the target respondent is the household member who is primarily responsible for making decisions about the household farm (typically the household head). If the target respondent is not available, and will not be available during the survey period, an acceptable alternate respondent is: an adult household member who is very familiar with the household farm.

Drops (and number of revisits)

Primary sampling units may have to be dropped, for example in case the sampled household has: moved out of the study area, does not consent to the interview, or is unreachable.

You should set a protocol for how many times a sampling unit will be revisited before being dropped, in the case that a respondent is unavailable, temporarily away, or indisposed.

It is essential that field teams record which sampling units were dropped, and why. It is best practice to double-check this as part of a Survey Audit, and to watch for discrepancies across field teams with regards to frequency of drops.


If a primary sampling unit is dropped, will it be replaced? This will depend on the sampling frame and type of survey. Typically, replacement is more common at baseline surveys and less common for follow-up (panel) surveys.

If replacements are to be made, generate a list of replacements using the same strategy as the original sample, and provide that to the field teams at the start of data collection.


If a primary sampling unit has moved from the original or anticipated location, should the survey teams track them down? Tracking can be very costly; the protocol will depend on resources, the importance of maintaining the original sample, and whether migration is itself an important outcome. For example, tracking will be very important for a follow-up survey measuring the impact of a vocational training program on employment outcomes for at-risk youth. However, it may be less important for a follow-up survey measuring the impact of village-level infrastructure (e.g. a water pump).

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This article is part of the topic Field Management

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