Survey methodology has witnessed a colossal transition at the turn of the millennium and the advent of the digital age. No longer are the survey processes logistically exhausting and resource devouring. This change owes much of its success to the improved technological ecosystem that the world has witnessed. Digital data collection has inadvertently disrupted the survey methodology curricula especially in the market research arena. All sectors have been affected by this transition from an analog to a digital space, and the social sector is no exception to this. Our paper on ‘improvement in traditional survey methods’ proposes to highlight this phenomenon.
The first section of the paper will shed light on the transition of digital collection practices in the social and development sector of India, and particularly focus on the processes and driving forces behind the current trend and practices in survey methods. It is not too long ago that the Indian social sector faced constant scrutiny by funders and auditing agencies as lacking accountability for their utilization of funds. This question on credibility was not just faced by not for profit organizations in the social sectors but also state run welfare agencies, who were questioned on their methods of measuring impact, and the lack of reliable and accurate data collected to monitor and evaluate programmes. Hence, it is this need for credible, reliable and transparent data, combined with the big data processes that have driven agencies to explore better and reliable survey methods, resulting in a transition towards digital data collection practices. We therefore propose to examine the gaps and solutions leading to this transition, as it can provide valuable insights for future programmes and existing issues if any.
The second section of the paper will look at the tools and innovations that are currently in use. The innovations to be highlighted will range from computer assisted personal interviewing methods which can be used on smartphones or tablets to hitech unmanned aerial vehicles which are now rapidly changing the face of geo-spatial research especially in resource mapping of terrains previously inaccessible to human.
The third section of the paper will focus on the crucial questions and issues that these innovations may give rise to. Studies in the social sector often involve sensitive topics or require us to work with vulnerable groups who serve as important stakeholders in the research design. This section will further extrapolate on the effect of technology and the need for ethical protocols for surveys and research studies that use different platforms. This will also focus on privacy and confidentiality methods to avoid misuse or monopolization of data.
Finally, a digital democracy’s primary prerogative is to promote a larger participation of marginalized populace by building their capacity to access electronic platforms so that they get a much wider participation in the socio-political environment of a country. Therefore, the final section of the paper will highlight how the transitions in the survey methodology practices have effectuated positive change in the social economic rubric of the public at large.
The paper will be built upon secondary research coupled with real life experiences from various projects conducted by Outline India, a research and data collection organization. Outline India has conducted 70 evaluations across 23 states and 8000 villages in India, thereby representing stakeholder from diverse backgrounds, settings, and sectors, with the aim to include their needs, opinions and views to better draft and inform the work of our partners and policymakers.