The global pandemic has resulted in a huge increase in remote data collection, and lots of learning-by-doing and innovation on how to conduct high-quality surveys remotely. One particularly challenging aspect of remote data collection is training enumerators remotely.
The World Bank’s Development Impact Evaluation (DIME) Department recently hosted a Panel Discussion, Tips and Tricks for Remotely Training Enumerators, to understand how organizations leading remote data collection have adapted to training enumerators remotely. The dynamic panel, consisting of Mitali Mathur from IDInsight, Rosemarie Sandino & Ishmail Azindoo Baako from Innovation for Poverty Action (IPA), Akuffo Amankwah from World Bank’s Living Standards Measurement Study, and Amrik Cooper from SurveyCTO, covered challenges faced, lessons learned, and effective strategies for training enumerators remotely. We summarize the key points below; you can find the video of the full panel discussion here.
Main determinants of success for remote trainings
Pre-existing best practices for in-person training nearly all apply to remote training as well. These include: over-recruiting enumerators, assessing participants carefully and retaining only the best performers, planning interactive trainings, and having a low instructor-to-participant ratio. We highlight the key differences below, with the key takeaway being - do everything possible to limit the amount of time participants are just staring at the screen!
- Structure- remote training works best when done in shorter sessions over a longer time period compared to in-person trainings. Expecting full engagement from 9-5 is not realistic; the panelists agreed on 4 hours a day as a good target. The agenda should also include buffer time for solving connectivity issues. For example, start with a fun icebreaker while people are connecting. Assigning a point-person for technical troubleshooting (different from the training facilitators) can further help minimize delays.
- Training materials - sending the enumerator training materials (manuals, questionnaire, etc.) in advance can reduce the amount of lecture time, and allows enumerators to be more engaged. This is particularly important in contexts where internet connections are unreliable or unstable. Materials can be sent through survey software directly, or even via WhatsApp.
- Interaction - interactive training methods are even more important during remote settings. Panelists emphasized on avoiding streaming lectures as much as possible (better to send in advance), using online meetings for discussion, and increasing interaction by using breakout rooms.
Technology to make remote trainings effective and efficient
Basic videoconferencing technology is required to deliver trainings remotely. Using innovative features and combining software can help make trainings more interactive and increase understanding.
- Engagement- use quick polls and reactions embedded in Zoom or Microsoft Teams to obtain immediate feedback. Combine video-conference software with group chats on commonly used messaging platforms (such as WhatsApp) to create more opportunities for questions and discussion. Large teams, or teams with repeated similar surveys, might even find it useful to develop a chat-bot. The panelists also urged trainers to think of creative ways of pairing up surveyors with one another so that they can practice using their devices and be an active listener and surveyor. Practice sessions can be monitored by trainers to provide detailed feedback so that surveyors can improve their performance prior to the start of data collection.
- Assessment - create self-grading quizzes using the survey software; this saves grading time and provides immediate feedback to enumerators. Create the quizzes on the same data collection platform being used for the survey to increase familiarity with the survey software. Use text and audio audit features during mock interviews to assess enumerator performance, and provide individual feedback. Assess actual attendance at various points during the session by cold-calling enumerators or having enumerators turn on their video for a minute (bandwidth allowing).
Primary challenges and suggested solutions
The key challenges include limited internet connectivity, lack of in-person interaction, and data security concerns. While it’s important to plan ahead, be prepared to dynamically adapt the training based on real-time feedback and unanticipated challenges.
- Connectivity - unsurprisingly, unstable and unreliable internet connections were cited by all panelists as the key challenge. The best way to overcome this is to share pre-recorded videos, presentations with voice overs, and audio recordings in advance; it’s almost always easier to download materials than watch them on live-stream. Similarly, record all live sessions and share with participants afterwards. Depending on the context, it can be helpful to provide mobile money for data used on personal devices, SIM cards for different network providers, or mobile devices pre-loaded with all necessary software and airtime. Finally, adding a buffer day into the training schedule can help ensure that surveyors who might have missed sessions have adequate time to catch-up on what was missed.
- Data security - while it is often practical for enumerators to use their own devices, this can present data security challenges. The best way to ensure data security - which is especially critical when collecting personal data - is to provide mobile devices with pre-loaded software and strict security settings. In the case of over-recruitment, it is possible to have enumerators train on their own devices, but conduct the survey using the provided devices. However, it is helpful (when possible) to use the same devices for training and data collection to avoid confusion.
The panel highlighted that in-person trainings are hard to replace, but with the above adjustments and innovations remote trainings can be successful. All panelists agreed that they will revert to in-person trainings as and when possible, but some of the lessons learned through remote trainings will be adapted to in-person trainings. These include making all sessions more interactive, sharing materials with enumerators in advance, and conducting some parts of the training remotely (allowing more facilitators to participate whilst reducing travel). Despite the many challenges, all panelists were optimistic that the remote training experience will help make future in-person trainings better.
Learn more about remote trainings and remote data collection with these resources suggested by the panelists:
- IPA Phone Survey Methods Hub - https://www.poverty-action.org/recovr/phone-survey-methods
- IDinsight blog: Daily practices to optimize remote survey teams - https://medium.com/idinsight-blog/daily-practices-to-optimize-remote-survey-teams-63801027c1d3
- LSMS Technical Guidance Note: Planning and Implementing HH surveys under COVID-19 - https://documents1.worldbank.org/curated/en/457071612329086331/pdf/Planning-and-Implementing-Household-Surveys-Under-COVID-19.pdf
- 13 Tips for Conducting an Effective Online Enumerator Training - https://www.edi-global.com/13-tips-for-conducting-an-effective-online-enumerator-training
- DIME Analytics guide to remote data collection https://dimewiki.worldbank.org/Preparing_for_Remote_Data_Collection