Coordination and communication in the field

Communication is used to share field experiences, give feedback to teams, obtain permissions at different levels and mobilize communities. Regular communication is essential, within field teams and between the field teams and the Regional supervisors and Survey coordinator. Before fieldwork starts, a communication plan should be established for routine coordination and for emergencies. The rules should specify who should communicate with whom and on which topics. A reliable means of communication, usually mobile phones, should be provided. SIM cards for multiple networks may be needed where coverage is known to be irregular. The rules will vary by survey and by the national context related to expected network coverage and ease of communication.

Box 13.2 describes examples of routine communication.

Box 13.2. Examples of routine communication

Routine communication between Team leaders and Regional supervisors usually concerns:

  • managing timely payments to team members;
  • managing transport of supplies and equipment to the field as well as transport of paper-based forms and specimens from the field;
  • providing a daily progress update, for example the cluster, number of households surveyed, and the number and type of specimens collected; and
  • raising questions about any issues experienced.

The Regional supervisor manages the information received in accordance with his or her role and provides an overall update on a regular basis to the Survey coordinator.

Routine communication between the Team leader and team members usually includes verifying progress and safety, including alerts from team members when:

  • they are moving to another location
  • difficulties arise, such as problems in locating a household or in using equipment.

In general, phones should not be answered during an interview, as this disrupts the flow of the conversation. It is recommended that communication from Team leaders be done by text messaging, requesting a call back when the interview is finished.

Sharing field experiences through messaging and chats

Communication between teams is also essential, and can help teams troubleshoot common problems that arise. Fieldwork experiences can be shared with the entire survey field team in real time using a forum set up on a mobile messaging or chat application. All field team members can be encouraged to share their observations, challenges, and questions. Feedback can then be provided by all members of the technical team and by other field teams, with summary recommendations and clarification from the supervisors or coordinators. Applications can be used to set up various forums that are specific to each field team, to different roles within a team (such as interviewers or laboratory personnel), and for different levels of survey management.

Feedback to teams

Regional supervisors and the Survey coordinator should provide frequent, helpful feedback to teams. Feedback should always be constructive, even when discussing challenges or improvements that need to be made. Feedback to a specific team member should be done directly in person or over the phone, and not in a public forum.

Permission at national, regional, and district levels

Official permissions to conduct a micronutrient survey should be obtained at national, regional, and district levels by the appropriate members of the Steering committee and the Technical committee. This approval should first come through any specific institutional review board or ethical clearing committee in the country, as discussed in Module 1: Planning and designing a micronutrient survey. The Principal investigator or Chair of the Steering committee should be responsible for officially informing various levels of government about the survey objectives and the implementation plan, and for obtaining approvals from all levels. In administrative areas where the fieldwork will take place, letters of support from the ministry of health should also be obtained to facilitate fieldwork.

Permission at cluster and household levels

Prior to entering a community, and where mapping and household listing are being conducted in advance, the listing team should seek permission from local officials to conduct the survey. The appropriate local community leader should be provided with a letter of support from the district-level health office, with any accompanying letters from other administrative level.

The listing team should also meet with other community leaders to brief them, with clarity and sensitivity, on the aims and objectives of the survey and on the types of information the survey team will collect. These leaders may include local elders, health administrators and personnel from the office of statistics, as well as field focal points including, in some cases, members of households selected for interview. Their understanding and collaboration are crucial for access to households and to maximize consent, especially for the collection of biological specimens. Each interviewer and phlebotomist needs to be courteous and tactful when entering a household. In many settings, team members need an official letter, or a badge and identification from the government to justify the data collection.

The listing team should record contact information for all local leaders. This will allow the survey field team to call in advance to inform the community when they will be arriving and to finalize any necessary local logistical arrangements. This information will also be important in case of any emergency.

Before starting fieldwork, the Team leader should visit local health facilities to discuss the referral process agreed previously with the ministry of health. In this way, preparations can be made to manage referrals as needed.

Mobilizing communities

Team leaders should have a list or map of survey households that, if possible, includes the names of the head of household (see the household listing form template). Team leaders should contact the identified local leaders and health facilities at least one week ahead of the fieldwork to share the plans and to request their presence and assistance. The visit should be confirmed, or amendments made, two days before the expected date. This process also provides the Team leader with advance notice of any community events that might affect data collection, for example, a market day or a wedding, and allows local leaders to plan for the team’s arrival. Local leaders may be requested to alert the selected households about the field team’s arrival and the objectives of the data collection exercise. If the listing includes a phone number for the household head, Team leaders can also call respondents directly to arrange interviews. The first visit of a data collection team into a community is best when accompanied by a local community leader.

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