Think tanks routinely engage with stakeholders to gather information which is then analysed to develop evidence-based reports and policy recommendations. Identifying appropriate research tools and methodologies is important because it leads to robust fact-gathering and ensures the collection of sound and logical data.
As a communicator it is important for me to understand these tools and methodologies, and one that we often use is a questionnaire. A questionnaire is a tool to collect data, asking a given subject a set of questions and recording either oral or written responses.
Advantages and disadvantages
Like any other tool, questionnaires have advantages and disadvantages. For me, some of the key advantages include:
- It can be inexpensive way to gather information – it can be shared on a website, social media platform, or as an email.
- It’s flexible, as you can include open-ended or closed questions, and you can send it only to a select audience or target a wider audience for scalability by sharing via email or social media channels.
- It’s easy to analyse your data and to visualise that analysis through graphics.
- Respondent’s anonymity can be preserved when a digital questionnaire is used online.
I also recognise these disadvantages:
- If completed online comprehension and understanding cannot be guaranteed, which can skew results.
- It doesn’t capture emotional responses as well as interviews do.
- Respondents aren’t necessarily meticulous in answering – some questions may be skipped, and hence a complete analysis and understanding may not be achieved.
An effective questionnaire should include information required by the research project end-users, be designed in a way that can be easily used by the respondents, and structured to ensure that data analysis is simple and easy. Co-create the questionnaire with the stakeholder to ensure that the right information is generated. Ensure you use the C principles: concise, courteous, crisp, and complete. Finally, ensure that you have tested the questionnaire and chosen your respondents appropriately.
One PAC project aims to ensure a person-centered delivery of TB programmes, promoting a gender-responsive TB approach, and driven by meaningful community engagement. The study is being conducted in the working areas of the Blossom Trust in three areas of Tamil Nadu, Madurai, Virudhunagar, and Ramnathapuram, over 10 months (22 February to 21 December, 2022) and is funded by the Stop TB Partnership and Blossom Trust.
PAC’s team chose to use a questionnaire to collect data about issues such as the health-seeking behavior of the TB patients, human rights concerns and gender barriers within highly prevalent TB communities, and the factors affecting treatment. We decided to use a questionnaire instead of Key Informant Interviews (KII) because the sample size is quite high and we wanted to quantify our findings by deriving statistics that will both identify the lag in the NTEP programme and show the prevalence percentage of the variables of concern. It also helped us to look into the factors affecting the health-seeking behaviour using dependent and independent variables and arrive at causality precisely.
We designed the questionnaire based on our hypothesis and piloted the questionnaire among a few of the TB communities in the field (Madurai and Virudhunagar District of Tamil Nadu). The trial showed that we could collect the data precisely and accurately as it was easy for the respondent to answer the questions on the various themes like socio-demographic characteristics, facility-seeking behaviour, treatment-seeking behaviour, respondent perspectives about stigma, and other aspects related to health-seeking behaviour. We used the KOBO toolkit on Android mobile phones to avoid data-entry errors and ease data management. This worked well in the field, and we were able to export the data immediately and validate the questionnaire.
We are still collecting data, which we will analyse in the near future. The project will use the new information to enhance community engagement among the TB communities, which will in turn improve their health-seeking behaviour and reduce non-adherence to treatment.
Dr Surya Srinivasan, Programme Officer, Public Affairs Centre (PAC)