SWS turns 35
Today, August 8th, is the 35th birthday of Social Weather Stations, based on its date of registration, 8/8/85, with the Securities and Exchange Commission, as a non-stock, non-profit organization engaged in scientific research.
Back then, the SWS people were only the seven incorporators and one employee, with a plan to do four national polls leading toward the presidential election set for 1987. But the “snap election” of February 1986 intervened, and so the first SWS survey got done in May 1986, three months into the Cory Aquino administration. (The early history is in “The Philippine Social Climate,” Anvil Publishing, 1994.)
At present, SWS has a few dozen Fellows—social scientists who participate in SWS activities, and pay dues to be in good standing—and 41 regular employees, some of whom are also Fellows. It is governed by a board of nine directors (starting 2020), that renews itself in annual elections, three directors at a time.
The SWS mission is to regularly produce core indicators of Filipino well-being, based on scientific sample surveys, report the findings to the public, and permanently archive the data for the use of the social science community (see www.sws.org.ph for annual reviews and individual reports).
Poverty and hunger are my own interest, being an economist. Their quarterly surveys by SWS represent the most rapid tracking system in the world.
By observing change directly—gainers versus losers, optimists versus pessimists—even a single survey can see whether the sharing in development is equitable.
Governance is an important dimension of well-being—definitely appreciated when good, definitely resented when bad. SWS produces Report Cards for governance, with “subjects” graded by the citizenry.
Voter attitudes and preferences have been regularly covered, of course, since 1987. The ability of surveys to predict elections has made them acceptable to Filipinos, yet irritating to some politicians. Assisted by colleagues from the World Association for Public Opinion Research, SWS successfully petitioned the Supreme Court to rule as unconstitutional a portion of the Fair Election Act which would have banned publication of pre-election surveys (G.R. 147571, 5/5/2001).
Important issues—military coup attempts, the departure of the US bases, family planning policy, policy toward rebel groups, the war on illegal drugs, the bullying by China in the West Philippine Sea—have all been covered by the SWS polls.
SWS has strong global links. It is the Philippine member of the International Social Survey Program, World Values Survey, Asian Barometer, and Comparative Studies of Electoral Systems, and is the Philippine field provider for the Gallup World Poll. SWS received the 2019 Award for the Betterment of the Human Condition from the International Society for Quality of Life Studies.
As of mid-2020, SWS has archived 652 survey datasets, of which 311 are national in scope. For the first 241 surveys, SWS subcontracted the fieldwork and data processing to a private company. Thereafter, for the next 411 surveys, SWS handled all operations without outsourcing.
The archived data involve 1,019,874 interviews and 120,203 questionnaire items, i.e., an average of 1,654 respondents, answering an average of 184 questions, per survey. This data collection is literally priceless; if destroyed or lost, it cannot be restored at any price. Backup copies are kept in distant safe locations, in case of natural disaster.
In the pandemic, surveys are needed. The current ban on public transport, which prevents interviewers from reaching respondents across the country, is the main obstacle to face-to-face (F2F) surveys. Protocols to cope with the health hazards to both respondents and interviewers, prepared by the Marketing and Opinion Research Society of the Philippines, have been ready since late May. In the meantime, the best alternative to the F2F mode is the mobile phone survey, provided there is a reliable sampling database (see the SWS May 4-10, 2020, and July 3-6, 2020 National Mobile Phone surveys, www.sws.org.ph).
We at SWS are avoiding COVID-19 infection as best we can, guided by our health adviser Dr. Jaime Galvez Tan, who told us this week: “Look after your SELF: Sleep, Exercise, Love, and Forgive.”
Contact [email protected].