The art of taking surveys in hard-to-reach areas

Thailand’s Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey for every child well-being.

Sirinya Wattanasukchai
2 NSO enumerators are on motorbike heading to collect data from household in Mae Hong Son.
UNICEF Thailand/2022/Roisri
Hundreds of NSO enumerators are racing against time to collect data from over 34,000 households nationwide.
14 February 2023

Keeping calm, Lawan Junyanun politely asks to see the ID cards of the family in whose house she is currently sitting. Lawan has so far been unable to fill out the names and dates of birth of each family member on her tablet. A few minutes later, the house registration is brought to her quickly complete the basic data section of the online forms.

While the work can be frustrating, the 45-year-old enumerator, who has been with the Mae Hong Son branch of the National Statistical Office (NSO) for 24 years, shows great patience when filling out the 10 names of the extended family. Nor does she mind spending a further hour posing questions to each family member.

Lawan was recently collecting data from a household in Ban Khun Sa Nai Village of Pai district for Thailand’s Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey or Thailand 2022 MICS – the country’s largest survey on children and women conducted every three years by the NSO with support from UNICEF.

The survey compiles data on more than 150 indicators covering reproductive and maternal health, child health, nutrition, and development, access to education, foundational learning skills, parental involvement and discipline as well as early marriage, teen pregnancy and attitudes toward violence from over 34,000 households across Thailand. Lawan’s task is to collect all this data by asking questions, double-checking the living conditions to make sure they are in line with the information given, and measuring the height and weight of children under 5 in sample households.

Lawan’s work has taken her to households in Muang district, which can be easily accessed on foot. It has also taken her to hard-to-reach villages, like Ban Khun Sa Nai village, which can take up to two-and-a-half hours each way by motorcycle or a four-wheel drive through a winding muddy track.

A four-wheel drive through a winding muddy track to Ban Khun Sa Nai village.
UNICEF Thailand/2022/Roisri
A four-wheel drive through a winding muddy track to Ban Khun Sa Nai village.

A household can be a family of three or an extended family of 15. If any of them are absent, Lawan must return until she has the complete data on the household. That means asking the village head to provide accommodation for a few days.

Recently, UNICEF and the NSO teams from Bangkok made a field visit to Mae Hong Son and Chiang Mai to monitor the field work of enumerators. Lawan was delighted to accompany them in their vehicle, as travelling the 180 kilometres to the village from her home in Muang Mae Hong Son by motorcycle can be arduous.

Enumerators like Lawan must follow global MICS guidelines and protocols by UNICEF, which have been adapted to the Thai context by NSO, to ensure consistency and quality in data collection. Daily challenges for enumerators vary, such as extreme weather, difficult routes, unwelcoming or unavailable homeowners and uncooperative children.

Enumerators are dealing with young children to get an accurate height.
UNICEF Thailand/2022/Roisri
Enumerators are dealing with young children to get an accurate height.

Incidences of scams have made homeowners more suspicious of uninvited guests, making it harder for enumerators to reach some households. In certain areas of Bangkok where households can be located in a condo block, security makes access even more difficult.

“Despite our uniform, some homeowners simply shut the door in our face because they’re afraid we are trying to pull a scam,” says Lawan.

That problem is more easily overcome in villages, where enumerators can make appointments with families through the village head. But even here, the path isn’t always so smooth.

While it might be easier to enter a home in a village, collecting data isn’t. For example, dealing with young children to get an accurate height can be a challenge. Most babies become upset at being forced to lie down on their backs on a wooden height measurement scale. Many cry so much that the process must be halted, meaning longer working hours for Lawan. Or many questions about children often must be addressed to the mother, which means Lawan must make another visit if the mother is absent.

“I have no other choice but to wait for the baby or toddler to calm down for the process to restart or for the mother to return home,” said Lawan, who often finds herself having to return to a village as, despite making appointments, some family members can be absent and the surveys are thus incomplete. An enumerator can drop a household from the survey only if they failed to reach it after three visits. “But we always aim to get it done.”

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