Last year, the global COVID-19 pandemic resulted in unprecedented disruption to travel, curfews, lockdowns, restrictions on large gatherings and social distancing. As the extent of this pandemic became more apparent, EDI Global’s immediate priority was the health and safety of our team, their families and the communities in which we work. In March 2020, EDI Global took the decision to suspend all fieldwork and to transfer our workforce to working from home arrangements. All decisions were made in consultation with our team, our clients and government authorities.
This meant a shift from in-person to remote data collection for the vast majority of our projects, leveraging our experience of both phone and SMS surveys to ensure that data continued to flow. Even when the world returns to ‘normal’ remote data collection will remain a useful and powerful tool in our toolkit offering a number of different attributes to fieldwork, such as lower costs per respondent and the potential for higher frequency data collection. In-person data collection offers the benefits of lower attrition rates and potential for much longer interviews, so we are pleased that we are able to return to the field in Tanzania ensuring our clients can choose between both in-person and remote data collection to best meet their needs.
Whilst our UK offices remain closed, we have been able to reopen our Tanzanian office and return to the field for some of our projects. Our decision to restart operations was a cautious one; we have adapted all of our operations to ensure our team and respondents are safe, whilst of course ensuring we maintain the same high quality data standards that our partners expect.
To guide the safe reopening of our offices and return to the field we have developed a robust set of protocols. In developing our protocols, we looked at both the global and local contexts to assess the potential risks and put in place strategies to mitigate these risks.
For each project, we assess whether it is appropriate to return to the field on a case by case basis, and once a project has launched we continually monitor the situation on the ground. We are committed to pulling projects and our team from the field and returning to a work from home arrangement if there are further outbreaks of COVID-19.
Our protocols cover all areas of our operations. In everything we do, whether at our offices, during training or out in the field every member of our team will be required to adhere to three protocols at all times; washing hands regularly, wearing a face covering when inside and when interacting with respondents, and keeping a two metre distance. In addition to this we have developed some basic do’s and don’ts and staff health checks (eg daily temperature checks) , as well as numerous other protocols covering all areas of a data collection project from training and accomodation to interviews and respondent health.
In Tanzania, it is now felt and widely discussed that COVID-19 is around. Traditional preventive measures, as well as medial recommended protocols, are observed. Respichius Mitti, EDI Global’s Country Director for Tanzania, said that due to this country-wide acceptance of COVID-19 being around, it has become much easier for EDI Global to implement its protocols compared to last year. He added that last year the protocols we exhibited appeared odd to the communities where we were working in many areas of the country, but now the communities we work in understand why these measures have been put in place.
EDI Global Research Officers Emma Cazou and Luca Privinzano have said that fieldwork in Tanzania for the Research on Improving Systems of Education (RISE) Endline project on behalf of Georgetown University, which took place last November, ran smoothly and that respondents in the schools visited were always understanding and helped ensure the safety of themselves and the EDI Global team. They also noted that the protocols are always evolving to accommodate new challenges as and when they arise.
In Uganda, restrictions have been much tighter than in Tanzania and this has impacted the length of time it is taking to obtain research clearances. Alice Sumbatala, Data Processing Officer at EDI Global, notes that whilst data collection, research and assessments have not stopped, the process of reviewing them for approval takes longer as there is now more to consider, and at the local level clearance there is an additional protocol to be cleared by the COVID-19 task force led by the Resident District Commissioner. Alice added that respondents are both curious and excited when field officers knock at their door, spending time with them and asking them how they are doing during the pandemic.
Kampala-based Project Coordinator Joseph Mukasa has noted that the current rule of only 50% vehicle occupancy has led to public transport costs increasing, however this has resulted in a reduction in unnecessary movement of people. Joseph went on to say that generally rules of wearing a mask and regular hand washing have now become common and accepted behaviours. EDI Global are currently implementing the baseline survey for the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP) on behalf of the World Bank, International Finance Corporation (IFC) and Mathematica, and will provide an update on any COVID-19 related implications in our next newsletter.
We are committed to ensuring the safety and wellbeing of our team, the communities we work with, and respondents, whilst ensuring the quality of our data is not compromised. You can download our Covid-19 Risk Management Plan – Fieldwork Health and Safety Protocols here. If you are looking for a data collection partner in Tanzania or Uganda, please get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.