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A key component of researchers’ response to COVID-19 is conducting safe and fast data collection. In March 2020, IPA along with many other research organizations shifted nearly all of its field data collection to remote methods, primarily Computer Assisted Telephone Interviews (CATI). This required adapting our methods for training and quality monitoring to virtual phone banking, with interviewers working from home, sometimes with limited connectivity. It also required re-tooling the way we design and implement questionnaires.

With generous support from Northwestern University’s Global Poverty Research Lab, IPA has gathered evidence and best practices and developed extensive tools and resources to support effective collection of high-quality data. This page is to share what we have developed, learned, and are currently learning as we continuously monitor quality and run experiments to improve methods for IPA’s network of investigators and for the rest of the research community.


As soon as COVID-19 halted field data collection, we started supporting the transition to remote surveying using mobile phones. Based on this experience, as well as the generous contributions from many partners, we produced materials to support research staff as they implement phone surveys. These best practices are compiled into a comprehensive guide below. We also developed a variety of technical tools for implementing phone survey data collection in SurveyCTO. These are featured in the guide, but some summary documents are also featured below.

Comprehensive Guide

Remote Surveying in a Pandemic Handbook Thumbnail ImageRemote Surveying in a Pandemic: Handbook

COVID-19 has resulted in many challenges for high-quality data collection. To this end, the Global Research and Data Support (GRDS) team at IPA has compiled best practices gleaned from over 50 remote survey data collections that IPA has conducted into a remote surveying handbook. This handbook describes ways to adjust common protocols and tasks needed to successfully implement a survey data collection. It focuses specifically on collecting data using computer-assisted telephone interviews (CATI), but also covers general details around interactive voice response (IVR), SMS, and web surveys. It pays special attention to the context of COVID-19 and strategies to maintain data quality during a pandemic.

Most-Requested Tools

SurveyCTO Templates for Phone Surveys

SurveyCTO Templates Webpage Thumbnail Image

Using SurveyCTO for Phone Surveys

SurveyCTO COVID-19 Phone Surveys Webpage Thumbnail Image

SurveyCTO Plug-ins for Phone Surveys

SurveyCTO IPA and J-PAL Webinar Webpage Thumbnail Image

Case Studies

Map of Colombia in solid orange color with surrounding whitespace cropped outCOLOMBIA | Data Quality Checks with Audio Recordings

Map of Colombia in solid orange color with surrounding whitespace cropped outCOLOMBIA | Geospatial Tools for Creating Sample Frames

Map of Colombia in solid orange color with surrounding whitespace cropped outCOLOMBIA | Automating Quota Sampling Protocols

Map of Colombia in solid orange color with surrounding whitespace cropped outCOLOMBIA | Asking Sensitive Questions by Phone

Map of Colombia in solid orange color with surrounding whitespace cropped outCOLOMBIA | Implementing Video Call Interventions

Map of Ghana with solid orange fill colorGHANA | Building Rapport and Trust in Phone Surveys

Map of the Philippines with solid orange fill colorPHILIPPINES | Remote Qualitative Interviews

Map of Uganda with solid orange fill colorUGANDA | Managing Time Use for Virtual Phone Banks

Map of Zambia with solid orange fill colorZAMBIA | Contracts and Incentives for Virtual Phone Banks

What the Research Says

To ensure that IPA’s transition to remote survey modes incorporated best practice, we reviewed existing literature on phone surveys. These reviews are compiled into summaries of what research says about various aspects of remote surveying including response rates, methods to increase response rates and how representative phone surveys can be. Links are provided to source studies, so visitors to this site can do their own research. Suggestions for other research to add are welcome; you can contact us here.

Comprehensive Guide

Research Synthesis PDF Thumbnail ImageRemote Surveying in a Pandemic: Research Synthesis

As part of IPA’s response to COVID-19, many existing and new data collections have shifted to remote data collection modes including computer-assisted telephone interviews (CATI), interactive voice response (IVR) and SMS surveys. These remote data collection modes allow research to continue, but there are many open questions about whether these types of data collection can effectively substitute for face-to-face surveying. Research on remote survey methods in low- and medium-income countries (LMICs) has been conducted intermittently over the past decade. This paper reviews this evidence on remote surveying methods to inform researchers about the efficacy of remote surveying methods across three domains: cost, response rates, and representativeness.

Source Studies

Remote Surveying in a Pandemic: Research Synthesis Source Data

Research Synthesis Source Data Google Spreadsheet Thumbnail Image

Additional Evidence Briefs

Pre-Contact Notifications in Remote Surveys

Pre-Contact Notifications Evidence Brief Thumbnail Image

Monetary Incentives in Remote Surveys

Monetary Survey Incentives Evidence Brief Thumbnail Image

Mode Effects on Data Quality for CATI Surveys

Mode Effects Evidence Brief Thumbnail Image

What We Are Learning

There are many open questions on the efficacy of CATI surveys. In partnership with GPRL and the principal investigators for numerous studies, IPA is implementing a variety of multi-country methods experiments and observational studies of response rates, phone survey data quality, representativeness, duration effects, and many other topics. For now, we are sharing the methods research agenda. As the data come in, we will report results here.

Research Agenda


Case Studies

Map of Colombia in solid orange color with surrounding whitespace cropped outCOLOMBIA | Household Rosters for Phone Surveys in Colombia

Map of Colombia in solid orange color with surrounding whitespace cropped outCOLOMBIA | Survey Incentives and Response Behavior

Map of Peru with solid orange fill colorPERU | Recruitment & Mode Effects on Sample Composition

Map of Uganda with solid orange fill colorUGANDA | Productivity Costs of Quota Sampling