Survey protocols define how the survey will be implemented. They play an important role in ensuring high quality, consistently collected data. This page outlines five key survey protocols and provides insight on how to define these protocols.
- Survey protocols should be tested during the survey pilot, shared with the survey firm or implementing agency, recorded in the enumerator manual, and taught to all field staff.
- Important survey protocols include respondent selection, number of revisits, tracking, drops, and replacements. Depending on your project, you may need to establish additional protocols.
Survey Protocols define how the survey will be implemented. Clear protocols ensure that fieldwork is carried out consistently across teams and/or regions, and are important for reproducible research.
All protocols should be piloted in the survey pilot; shared with the survey firm or implementing agency early in the process; recorded in the enumerator manual; and taught to all field staff as part of the enumerator training.
It is important that surveyors know who is the target respondent for the interview and, in the case that the target respondent is not available, who, if anyone, is 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 may be an adult household member who is very familiar with the household farm.
Number of Revisits
It is important to set a protocol for how many times a sampling unit will be revisited before being dropped. This is relevant for cases in which a respondent is unavailable, temporarily away, or sick.
If a primary sampling unit has moved from the original or anticipated location, identify whether survey teams should track them down. Tracking can be very costly, so this protocol will depend on resources. It will also depend on the extent to which maintaining the original sample is important and whether or not migration itself is an important outcome. For example, tracking will a higher priority for a follow-up survey measuring the impact of a vocational training program on employment outcomes for at-risk youth than it would be for a follow-up survey measuring the impact of village-level infrastructure (e.g. a water pump).
Primary sampling units may have to be dropped if the sampled household has moved out of the study area, does not consent to the interview, or is unreachable.
It is essential that field teams report which sampling units were dropped and why. A good questionnaire design will allow field teams to easily record and relay this information. 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, identify whether or not it will 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.
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