When words fail: audio recording for verification in multilingual surveys

DeLuca, E. & Sydney, C.
Publication language
Date published
24 Jul 2019
Research, reports and studies
Participatory data collection, Data quality, Data standards

“Sir, I want to ask you some questions if you agree?”

With that one sentence, one of Translators without Borders enumerator summarized the 120-word script provided to secure the informed consent of our survey participants – a script designed, in particular, to emphasize that participation would not result in any direct assistance. Humanitarian organizations, research institutes and think tanks around the world are conducting thousands of surveys every year. How many suffer from similar ethical challenges? And how many substandard survey results fall under the radar due to lack of effective quality assurance?

Translators without Borders conducted a survey on the relationship between internal displacement, cross-border movement, and durable solutions in Borno, a linguistically diverse state in northeast Nigeria. Before data collection began, Translators without Borders (TWB) translated the survey into Hausa and Kanuri to limit the risk of mistranslations due to poor understanding of terminology. Even with this effort, however, not all the enumerators could read Hausa or Kanuri. Although enumerators spent a full day in training going through the translations as a group, there is still a risk that language barriers may have undermined the quality of the research. A problem faced by many organizations in the humanitarian sector. Learn more about it here.