Choosing a survey method for your study
If your target survey sample has reliable access to desktop internet, or your survey is specifically for desktop internet users, an online survey is an efficient method. Online surveys are relatively fast, inexpensive, and can be administered remotely. You can collect and analyze data in real time, and you can reach many people in different locations all at once.
In-person surveys are an effective way to reach communities that are more comfortable talking to an interviewer face-to-face, or groups with limited internet access. Researchers conduct in-person surveys based on the locations of each community by interviewing people in homes, restaurants, cafes, markets, public transportation platforms, and public plazas. In-person surveys are more costly and time intensive than online surveys, but they’re worth the investment to reach otherwise underrepresented populations.
If an in-person survey is the best approach for your study, it’s important to work with a local research agency that can help select a representative cross-section of cities and demographics to survey. Local partners also have the context to provide feedback on your hypotheses and questions. To avoid misunderstandings and incorrect translations, hire people that are native language speakers to conduct the surveys, keeping in mind that there may be several different languages spoken within a single country.
In-person surveys require transcription of handwritten data into digital documents for further tabulation and analysis. Consider whether electronic devices, such as tablets, are the right fit for gathering data. While devices can make note-taking easier, take into account the biases electronics may introduce, in addition to connectivity or battery life issues in the field. In these cases, a paper form might be more appropriate.
Phone and SMS surveys
Phone surveys may be a good option when questions are short, closed-ended, or targeted. Due to the growing number of phones in developing economies, deploying surveys via phone calls and SMS are increasingly viable options. Interactive Voice Response (IVR), or voice-based survey, is a friendly option for participants with lower literacy, or those who may be new to using the internet.
You can conduct a phone or SMS survey by entering a list of phone numbers and a pre-programmed questionnaire into a service like EngageSpark. The service intercepts the participant at a specific time, presenting the questionnaire via a phone call, or a URL via SMS voice call or SMS link. Some people assume incoming voice calls and SMS are spam, so weigh the possible limitations (lower response rates) and benefits before choosing this method.