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#90 Surveys

September 7, 2011

submitted by Dave Algoso (@dalgoso) who blogs at Find What Works … with some additions by Shotgun Shack

The savvy Expat Aid Worker manages an array of tools to help implement his or her important work. One indispensable and dual-purpose tool is the survey.  A well-designed survey hits two of the EAWs key goals: mastering local knowledge and proving his or her own worth.

Local knowledge, of course, is like bread-and-butter for a seasoned EAW. He will happily shares this knowledge with new Expat Aid Workers and locals alike. After all, the veteran has been invited to village weddings by friends he met on a dirt road 5 hours outside Lima, he wears a nice sherwani jacket to parties in New York, and he gently rolls ugali in his hand before eating it.

And yet, the Expat Aid Worker’s local knowledge may be missing a key element. Her ease in interacting with local people produces knowledge that is mostly qualitative in nature, and sometimes she needs hard numbers. Without hard numbers, it’s difficult for the EAW to justify her tidy salary and dank perks and prove how important her pet theme or issue is to local people.

Enter the survey – a critical part of any needs assessment, program evaluation or RCT. Surveys provide the EAW with raw data that allows her and her employer to demonstrate beyond a doubt that their presence is needed.

With a large enough sample, a survey takes on the trappings of science. The EAW (or his intern) uses some basic knowledge of statistics in a game of Dazzle the Donors: tables of data, maybe a few charts, and a smattering of Greek letters will be sufficient to distract readers from footnoted caveats and assumptions. Packaged together in a glossy report, the survey findings will be promptly delivered to the funder complete with some soundbites and unquestioned quotes that fit nicely into 140 characters or New York Times headlines and help to cement stereotypes into the minds of the public that lead to increased funding. The fact that the local communities who participated in the actual surveys rarely see or participate in interpreting the results is of secondary concern.

Expat Aid Workers don’t only love creating surveys; they also love taking surveys (especially Meyers-Briggs personality tests and on-line surveys on Survey Monkey and Facebook).  The internal office survey helps managers determine scientifically whether the human resources department is meeting staff needs, teams are well structured, where to go for the annual staff outing, and how to deal with the feral cats living in the secured compound.

Surveys can also be used to confirm how important and influential the EAW and his or her organization are with a targeted audience or even the broader public. The World Bank didn’t need to hire a social media guru to prove that “social publishers fuel user behavior online.” No, no, they used that all important fallback tool: the survey.

And what about the impact of the EAW’s hard work blogging to display superior thinking or blogging for the folks back home?

Funny you should ask. Not to be outdone by the World Bank, the team behind @Smart_Aid has created a survey on aid and development blogs!

Click here to take it…. we’ll share the results with all stake holders, we promise.

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