The data from the first round was messy because of the flaws in questionnaire design. In this fish value chain research, there was no way to find out how much fish is sold, how much cost is incurred and how much profit is made. That’s the reason we overhauled the questionnaire. That’s why we told the enumerators about the areas of weakness and how to avoid those. That’s why we prepared a checklist for the supervisors to scrutinize every questionnaire for accuracy. That’s why the research coordination team visited one research team after another to provide assistance.
But it’s the same story all over again. Too many incomplete questionnaires, too much inconsistency and a lot of room for suspicion that the data was not collected sincerely. This is absolutely undesirable when each enumerator is paid a handsome amount per day and are supposed to be supervised by experienced managers. My assessment is that this repeated failure to collect accurate data is not only a matter of capacity or design of the questionnaire. It is also about accountability and supervision. If the supervisors feel that they can get away without checking the questionnaires, the enumerators also get the signal that they can get away with whatever they produce. So, the payment for their work should be somewhat performance based in my view. And anybody who is doing the work needs to know that their performance will actually be assessed!
But it is not that easy to assess the performance of such activities. Yes, we can check each and every questionnaire for accuracy and completeness. But how would we know that the data is not fabricated? One solution is unexpected random visits during the work. In this case, the people in the field should know that there will be unexpected visits. Another solution could be to randomly call respondents whoever provided phone numbers to check whether they were really interviewed. Yet another solution could be the use of technology, which would make it difficult to fabricate. In fact, a combination of all available tools can make a project worthwhile.
But most importantly it requires sincerity of the key people managing the project. These key people should “own” the project that will make them determined to undertake such a difficult job. The job that often involves week after week of field visit, hundreds of miles on bad roads and unpleasant encounter with people.
Development in general is hard. It needs intelligent people with their hearts in the right place. I am not saying they don’t exist but often it is not easy to find them. So, it is the job of development leaders to find those people and put them on the right place to make a difference.