Once you have created a great survey, you need to deploy it in the field. Field data collection is a complex process that often requires lots of time, money, and people. Deploying your survey in the field effectively will not only help save these resources, but it will also make your data more reliable.
This blog post covers the 5 steps required to deploy a survey in the field. (The process of deploying a survey in the field is known as a field plan.) Though this blog post was written with mobile-based data collection in mind, all types of surveys and organizations can benefit from the steps and best practices below.
Step 1: Identify your resources
The first step of creating a field plan is to estimate the resources you have for your project. The main resources to consider are budget and time.
Budget and time will determine how many responses you should collect, how many surveyors you should recruit, and how much you should spend on resources like devices, documents, projectors, refreshments, training logistics, salaries, and more.
Your Scope of Work (SOW) will help determine the budget and time available for your project. The SOW is a formal document that describes the work activities, deliverable, timelines and milestones, pricing, quality requirements, governance terms and conditions, etc. The SOW should also outline all the parties involved in the project, the budget, and the timelines.
Step 2: Recruit your field staff
Your field staff are crucial — they are the eyes and ears on field, as well as the people collecting every piece of data. That is why it is vital to find reliable and trustworthy field staff.
Before recruiting field staff, it is important to consider their responsibilities. What should they know in advance? How will they be trained? How will they collect data? Who will be responsible for monitoring the data collection process? Once you answer these questions, you will be one step closer to hiring a great team of field staff.
Next you must create a fixed hierarchy. Creating a fixed hierarchy ensures that a clear reporting and management system is in place, project timelines are being met, and field staff are supported at every step of data collection. The most common hierarchy uses three types of people: Field Managers, Monitors, and Surveyors.
Field managers lead the entire team working in the field. They supervise and oversee tasks of field employees, run training programs, and ensure that everyone works as effectively as possible.
Monitors directly manage and support the surveyors. It is usually best to recruit 1 monitor for every 10 surveyors.
Surveyors collect data from the field by directly interacting with the sample population and recording survey responses.
The last step is to recruit field staff at all levels. When recruiting field staff, consider the following four factors:
- Education qualifications
- Ability to handle technology
- Previous experience
- Willingness to learn new things
Step 3: Create a plan
An implementation plan is the complete plan for training and data collection. Having a plan in place ensures that everyone is on the same page, which makes data collection go more smoothly.
First, estimate the number of days required for training field staff. Ideally you should not train more than 50-60 people in one room at one time. Based on how complex and long your survey is, you could do a one-day training, two-day training, or trainings spread out over multiple days. By multiplying the duration of training (in days) and number of batches (with each batch 50-60 staff members), you can calculate the number of total days needed for training.
Tip: If you are short on time, conduct parallel trainings of multiple batches.
Second, outline the training. Your training will have two main components:
- Understanding the technology
- Understanding the questionnaire
Assess how complex each of these components will be, then accordingly estimate what materials and people will be required for each training.
Third, estimate the number of days for data collection. You can do this by calculating the following:
- Total number of responses required (also known as the sample size)
- Total number of surveyors
- Average time taken to fill each survey
Once you know these three numbers, you can calculate the number of surveys each surveyor can complete in one day. It is equal to the length of the day (most field surveys run for 8 hours per day) divided by the average time per survey.
This figure gives the number of days needed: multiply the number of surveyors by the number of surveys per surveyor per day, then divide the sample size by this number. Add the days added for re-surveying and you will have the total number of days for data collection.
The number of surveyors and total number of days of data collection are a trade off. Hiring more surveyors will decrease the time needed for data collection. However, training time and total field staff will need to increase, which requires more resources. In contrast, hiring fewer surveyors will increase the time needed for data collection.
Fourth, create a daily schedule for your field staff.
Here is an example schedule:
- 10 am: Morning session
- 11 am: Survey starts
- 2 pm: Lunch time
- 3 pm: Survey restarts
- 6 pm: Evening session
It is a good practice to include morning and evening sessions as a part of your team’s daily schedule. Morning sessions allow for a quick check-in with the team on how they are feeling, their goals for the day, and the progress of their project. Evening sessions allow for feedback and review. A good practice is to ask the team how their day went, if they faced any challenges, and if they have any feedback for the questionnaire or data collection app during the evening session.
How to calculate your sample size
Determining the size of your sample population is one of the most difficult decisions to make in your survey. A larger sample can yield more accurate results — but the more responses you collect, the more expensive it gets.
The best way to calculate a sample size is to use the size of the population you are surveying. For example, if you are studying the learning outcomes for a school with 200 students, your population size is 200. If you are studying women in Gujarat, the population size is the total number of women in Gujarat. This does not have to be exact.
To calculate your sample size, use the following sample size formula:
In the formula above, n is the sample size you should use, and p is the size of the population being surveyed. (Note: the formula above assumes a margin of error of 5% and confidence level of 95%. To learn more about margin of error or confidence or to get the general sample size formula, check out the last chapter of our ebook on data collection.)
Step 4: Train field staff
After creating an implementation plan, you need to prepare for and conduct training for your staff. Important preparations include the following:
- Phones/tablets should be procured and given to the field staff.
- Make field staff aware of the fact that training will happen on tablets.
- Create a plan for setting up the training material.
- Field staff should be aware of the purpose of the training.
The best way to conduct training for mobile-based data collection is to divide the training in three parts: technical training, survey training, and data collection training.
Technical training focuses on learning the mobile-based data collection technology. Before conducting the technical training, it is helpful to go through the data collection app yourself. Be sure to try the full functionalities of the app – make a questionnaire from scratch and fill out an entire questionnaire to understand how the application functions.
Survey training should happen only once your field staff is comfortable with the device and the app. Then the next step is to train the staff about the survey itself. Survey training should focus on explaining the logic behind the survey questionnaire and how to ask the different types of questions on the survey.
Make sure you cover the following:
- If you have multiple questionnaires, explain the purpose and types of different questionnaires. Suppose you have two questionnaires – baseline and monitoring. Tell field staff why baseline data is important and how it can help make the program better. Then tell them what monitoring is and how it will be helpful.
- Explain survey details (such as the average time taken, flow of the questions, potential pitfalls, etc.) to the field staff so that they can best collect data.
- Run the field staff through each question to explain how they should be asking it. Some questions might be tricky, especially if the question is difficult to understand for the respondent.
Survey training is also a good time to get feedback on the questionnaires, so be sure to ask field staff if there are better ways of asking each question.
Data collection training covers the best practices of data collection. This helps to improve the quality of data collected by surveyors. Best practices include the following:
- Do not prompt answers to respondents. Only state the possible options.
- Do not repeat questions beyond a certain point.
- Let the respondent take his/her own time.
- Follow the sequence of the questions. Don’t skip questions based on your judgment.
- Read out all the options correctly to the respondents.
- While moving from one section of the questionnaire to another, give the respondent a heads-up on the upcoming questions.
- Data collection needs to be unbiased (recorded without personal bias), time-bound (recorded in estimated time), and as per the format of survey.
In addition, explaining the entire project to surveyors can help encourage them to collect good data. Some points to cover include:
- The purpose of the project.
- Surveyors’ role in the larger picture of informing program’s decisions.
- The fact that the organization trusts surveyors with the important task of data collection.
- The project uses mobile-based tools to help make data collection easier, quicker, and more reliable for surveyors.
Story from the field
Meet Pramila*. She dropped out of school after clearing grade 7. Pramila was a volunteer with Swades Foundation and was helping with the data collection process. When she entered the training workshop, she was very apprehensive of using a tablet to collect data in different forms — typing up text, capturing audios and videos, and mapping households.
After four hours of training, Pramila was able to not only use the tablet well, but she was also able to use Collect (the data collection app) well.
During this training, there were many Pramilas in the room who learned to use the app in just four hours.
This happened because the training was well-planned, interactive, inspiring and well-executed. You can also inspire your field staff and kickstart data collection by planning your trainings well and communicating project rationale and learning outcomes for both the project and the team. In addition, sharing success stories like that of Pramila can help field surveyors feel confident in their ability to contribute to the project.
*name changed for privacy
The final step is monitoring the team while they collect data.
Observe surveyors on the ground. While your surveyors are piloting or collecting data, observe them to learn common mistakes, doubts, and best practices. You can share these learnings in the morning or evening sessions so everyone can benefit from them.
Monitor the data that is being collected. Regularly monitor the data that is coming in to check for any inconsistencies or problems.
Take feedback from your surveyors. Take feedback on their experience, if they are facing any challenges, or if they require any additional resources.
Give feedback to surveyors. Give constructive criticism to surveyors as you observe them on the ground. Don’t be mean, be specific, and be sure to explain the rationale behind your feedback and how each person can improve.