2.5 Short questionnaire based surveys

Short questionnaire-based surveys are a useful tool. While most EAR tools are looking for depth rather than breadth (quality over numbers), short questionnaire surveys can be used for the following purposes:

  1. To quickly get an idea of whether specific things are different amongst different groups of people. For example, to identify the different information/communications needs, patterns, resources, skills, etc of people in different socio-economic groups. What are they interested in? What general problems concern them?
  2. For testing findings from other methods on larger numbers of people. For example, in-depth interviews are richer and generate more questions and material but are time consuming and can only be completed with a small number of people. Through short questionnaire-based surveys it is possible to investigate whether findings might be applicable to a larger number of people, and you can see if there are differences between groups of people that require further in-depth exploration using other tools.
  3. Ensuring that research includes both users and non-users of the initiative, or of the media being studied and that research also looks at media that are not included in the initiative. For example, a short survey may ask people about the different types of ICTs and media they use and have access to, where they have access and how often they use it.
  4. Producing data for evaluations of specific indicators that are linked to your goals.

Just as with all other tools in the toolbox, it is essential to plan short questionnaire-based surveys carefully. An EAR researcher would not use this method alone, would need to be sure that it is an appropriate method for the research activity, and be clear about what he or she hopes to uncover through the questionnaire.

This method will only give you a limited insight; it is good at generating numbers (for example, numbers of people with a TV, radio, telephone; or, numbers for evaluation reports for external agencies) but will not tell us very much detail about patterns of use, or reasons and reactions.

An EAR short questionnaire-based survey would take a simple, common-sense approach that integrates the survey into an overall research plan.

Questionnaires should be short, fitting onto one or two A4 sheets of paper. A range of different people should be approached to complete the questionnaire, depending on the purpose of the research.

If you want to understand different uses of media across different socio-economic groups within the community, then you need to ask a number of people from each of those groups to complete the questionnaire. In such a case the aim is to select a sample from these populations - a selection of individuals or households that represents those groups. The sample also needs to reflect the proportions of men and women, different classes or ethnicities, and so on.

For example, suppose there is a population of 1000 households in a village and 10% of those are Muslim (100 households). If you do a survey of 100 households then 10 of those should be Muslim.

The essential point is to select a sample that represents important aspects of the population: reflecting such key features as different ages, genders, ethnic groups, and social classes and it should do so in proportion to their number in the overall population.

You can do this in a common-sense way, and do it in relation to what you know from your other research work.

Often EAR researchers want to conduct short questionnaire-based surveys with specific users (for example, users of the project, or young women living in the vicinity). In this case the sample will not try to be representative of the whole community; it will target these specific groups. There is nothing wrong with this but this all needs to be considered and documented in the field notes. Then the goals and process of the research will be clear to all involved.

A good sample size for EAR purposes would be around 50-150. Getting more short questionnaires completed is unlikely to add a great deal.

Short questionnaire surveys are structured - you ask the same set of questions to everyone. In order to be able to count responses you need to provide a list of possible answers to most of the questions, so these are closed-ended questions rather than open-ended as with in-depth interviews. There might be tick-box responses.

The survey might be completed anywhere in the community, it could be administered by going door to door, or by standing in a busy marketplace. If the focus is on, for example, parents of school age children, you might ask a school for assistance in contacting parents, attend parent meetings, or accompany teachers on home visits.

  • The questions included in a questionnaire need to be carefully worded to avoid confusion or different interpretations.
  • The questionnaire needs to be tested (piloted) with a small number of people to check that it works in practice and produces the kinds of research data that you are looking for. Adjust the questionnaire if necessary following this pilot.
  • If survey assistants are being used they must be fully trained so that they completely understand what is required, and are all carrying out the survey in the same way.

A good tip is to always include some basic 'demographic background' information - age and gender of respondent for example. You may want to be able to say something about the media uses of different age groups, different genders, and so on.

In most cases, the bulk of the analysis of short questionnaires will be summary figures broken down in terms of social divisions. For example, it might be found that 60% of the households in a survey have cable TV, which might be interesting. But it might also be found that when this figure is broken down a little more, only 20% of those in a particular ethnic minority have cable, or that the percentage is - contrary to expectations - roughly equal for both richer and poorer households. That kind of finding would be interesting and useful, and through the use of more methods an EAR researcher would start to investigate what lies behind such a result.

For evaluation of the effectiveness of your initiative for external agencies, you may want to conduct this kind of survey before, during and after a particular intervention, so that you can see what difference your intervention has made which can be measured against pre-determined 'indicators' [ Monitoring and Evaluation ]