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Maria Apergi – My first few weeks at EDI!

Oct 12, 2018 | From Research

Maria Apergi

I became interested to work with EDI as its work is closely related to my interests in survey methodology, data collection and international development research. Moreover, I was drawn by the company’s commitment to high quality standards and ethical research.

There are different methods available to researchers to conduct an impact evaluation which have their relative strengths and weaknesses. The appropriate method is usually chosen depending on the respective setting and the resources at the researcher’s disposal. One thing however that these different methods have in common is the crucial role that data quality plays. The negative effect of poor data cannot be offset by even the most sophisticated impact evaluation design. This is a fact that few would argue against.

I hold a PhD in Environmental Policy and Development from London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). My research focused on applications of off-grid solar energy in Guinea-Bissau. I used choice modelling and other econometric techniques to analyse households’ energy adoption choices and energy use patterns.

During my PhD research, I developed a strong interest in survey methodology as I experienced firsthand the importance, as well as the difficulties, of collecting high quality data in the field. For all the papers of my thesis I had to undertake primary data collection, which entailed the design and implementation of household surveys and the management of a team of local enumerators.

During this time, I appreciated the importance of carefully planning out all the stages of data collection in order to generate accurate and meaningful data. From designing the surveys, choosing the sample, selecting and training the enumerators, conducting field supervision, performing data quality control to cleaning and analysing the data.

I also realised that our knowledge on how to design good surveys is ever-evolving and constantly informed both from academic research on survey methodology as well as from practitioners in the field.

Why EDI?

I became interested to work with EDI as its work is closely related to my interests in survey methodology, data collection and international development research. Moreover, I was drawn by the company’s commitment to high quality standards and ethical research.

One thing I have learned from my experience in the field is that a solid understanding of the local reality is crucial. This helps minimise potential problems during data collection and if such problems do arise to address them as soon as possible. It also helps ensure that the questionnaire is adapted to the local context, that the data is properly interpreted and that unrealistic expectations are avoided. In addition, a good understanding of the local context also helps to conduct the research in line with the local practices and expectations.

EDI achieves this by having a local presence in the places where it works. More specifically, EDI has offices in Bukoba and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania as well as operations in Uganda and Mozambique. Its local staff provide a fundamental contribution in the field.   I was also impressed by the fact that the management and research team in the UK also travel extensively to the research locations and some of them have also lived in the region before. Therefore, they also possess a good understanding of the local context. I am looking forward to start travelling soon for fieldwork purposes myself.

Another important aspect that my previous experience has taught me is that the use of digital instead of paper-based surveys has a strong impact on the quality of the data collected. This is because a number of functions like time stamps, randomisations, skips, use of external data, validations, GPS tools and enablements can be put in place to help guide enumerators but to also check if the survey is being conducted properly. In addition, errors from transferring the data from paper surveys are eliminated.

One of the things that I found exciting about EDI’s work is that it has been at the forefront of the transition to digital surveys. EDI has its own survey software called surveybe which has numerous add on features that allow to control for data quality. Even more importantly, the research team and the software development team work together and update the software on a regular basis to include new features drawing largely from lessons learned in the field.

EDI is strongly commitment to ensuring data quality and to adhering to ethical research practices. The company follow is a strict protocol in the field to ensure the quality of the data. A lot of attention is put in to training, testing and piloting, but also to supervision during the fieldwork and to thorough quality checks during the data collection process. Moreover, EDI has a data protection policy in place that ensures the anonymity of the respondents and data protection. This is done through a number of measures taken during the interviews but also at the stage of data storage and data transfer after the interviews are completed. Surveybe offers a number of features such as data encryption, features to anonymise datasets, password protections and file or folder locker applications that allow the research team to control the security scope especially for sensitive questions. In addition, carefully drafted consent notes and training of interviewers guarantees that respondents are fully informed and appropriately approached during the interviews and that a safe and private environment is offered to them during the interview. Furthermore, the company ensures that all its employees undergo training on ethical research practices.

EDI research

Apart from a data collection company EDI has a strong involvement in research, which bodes well with my own research background.

EDI conducts research on survey methodology in order to contribute to the debate on data quality but to also inform its own work. In a number of papers, the EDI team has studied issues like the use of paradata to monitor data quality, the effect of randomising between survey respondents on increasing the representativeness of sampled respondents within households, and the benefits of electronic data collection technology in improving data accuracy. This work adds to academic knowledge but it also provides a useful practical guide for practitioners. EDI disseminates its findings through publications and participation in relevant leading conferences in the field. In addition to a focus on survey methodology the research team also conducts other research on a range of topics in development economics. This includes topics on energy and environment, which is my area of expertise. I am looking forward to getting involved in new research projects with the EDI team.

The high quality of the services that EDI offers, due to all the above mentioned factors, is best demonstrated through its diverse clients which include governments, international institutions, NGOs and universities.

To conclude, I believe that EDI occupies a unique and crucial place to inform international development research. I am excited to be part of the research team and I am looking forward to working on its intellectually stimulating projects.