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How to develop a survey timeline

Depending on the complexity of the survey, planning, implementation and reporting can take anywhere from months to years to complete. A key part of the planning process is the development of a detailed workplan and realistic timeline that defines major activities and stipulates who is responsible for each.

Time needed for planning is frequently underestimated, and it is common for those unfamiliar with micronutrient surveys to believe that the lengthy planning process will not apply to their setting. It is recommended to assume a minimum of nine months, often as many as 12 months, to complete all preparatory tasks before the training and fieldwork can begin. Long delays in the proposed timeline may affect the availability of personnel within the Management and/or Field team as well as the effectiveness of the supplies that have been ordered. The Survey coordinator is responsible for developing the timeline and for tracking activities.

To develop a timeline, it is standard practice to start by determining the timing of training and data collection (fieldwork). Fieldwork often needs to be completed during a particular time period to avoid:

  • adverse climate (for example the rainy/monsoon season or winter snow);
  • political events (such as a presidential election); or
  • religious and/or cultural periods where lifestyle and dietary practices may be different than usual (for example Ramadan, or the Christmas holiday season).

It will also be important to bear in mind intervention-related events that link to survey objectives, for example biannual vitamin A supplementation or the start of a pilot project.

Once the fieldwork date is agreed and scheduled (with some flexibility), the remaining activities should be listed in the order to be completed, recognizing that the timing of some activities will overlap with others. For example, supplies can be ordered at the same time the survey questionnaire is being developed.

Timelines should include these elements:

  • a comprehensive list of activities organized sequentially, sometimes split into different phases, such as design, planning, implementation, analysis, documentation and dissemination;
  • the person or agency responsible for each activity;
  • the target date for completing the activity; and
  • a space for documenting the date the activity was actually completed.

See the ”Generic Timeline” Gantt chart online tool showing examples for specific survey phases.

Tasks that should be started as early as possible include procuring laboratory supplies and equipment (see Module 9: Survey equipment and supplies) and hiring the most appropriate implementing agency for data collection. Hiring is a process that may take several months. Supplies and equipment that are internationally procured also may take numerous months for release from customs and can accrue customs fees, which requires up-front planning. Timelines are working documents and need regular review and updating. It is normal to make changes to a timeline during survey implementation.

Generic Timeline

Gantt chart showing specific phases of the survey and when they will be complete