Can Mobile Phone Surveys Identify People’s Development Priorities?
By Ben Leo and Robert Morello | OCTOBER 20, 2015
Mobile phone surveys are fast, flexible, and cheap. But, can they be used to engage citizens on how billions of dollars in donor and government resources are spent? Over the last decade, donor governments and multilateral organizations have repeatedly committed to support local priorities and programs. Yet, how are they supposed to identify these priorities on a timely, regular basis? Consistent discussions with the local government are clearly essential, but so are feeding ordinary people’s views into those discussions. However, traditional tools, such as household surveys or consultative roundtables, present a range of challenges for high-frequency citizen engagement. That’s where mobile phone surveys could come in, enabled by the exponential rise in mobile coverage throughout the developing world.
Despite this potential, there have been only a handful of studies into whether mobile surveys are a reliable and representative tool across a broad range of developing-country contexts. Moreover, there have been almost none that specifically look at collecting information about people’s development priorities. Along with Tiago Peixoto, Steve Davenport, and Jonathan Mellon, who focus on promoting citizen engagement and open government practices at the World Bank, we sought to address this policy research gap. Through a study focused on four low-income countries (Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe), we rigorously tested the feasibility of interactive voice recognition (IVR) surveys for gauging citizens’ development priorities.
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