Face-to-face surveying is back | Inquirer Opinion
Social Climate

Face-to-face surveying is back

/ 05:05 AM September 05, 2020

In this time of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is feasible to do a scientific survey by the standard mode of face-to-face (F2F) interviewing, as long as there is public transportation for interviewers to reach survey respondents in the targeted areas.

Social Weather Stations has just completed field interviews of several hundred respondents (called Rs for short) for a private survey project in an area under general community quarantine. This project has demonstrated, to our satisfaction, that the stresses directly imposed by the pandemic on Rs and field interviewers (FIs for short) are manageable. It makes us, and our prospective sponsors, optimistic about reopening the pipeline of surveys that was stymied by the extreme lockdown on transportation, rather than by the COVID-19 disease itself.

Protocols to protect the health of survey respondents and interviewers in a time of COVID-19 were developed months ago by the Marketing and Opinion Research Society of the Philippines (MORES) and the Association of Market Research Operations Specialists (AMOS). They were later approved by the Department of Health.

Survey researchers, whether MORES members or not, need not have FIs on their regular payroll. There are specialized companies that provide interviewer services; such companies are the members of AMOS. (But SWS, for its part, hires its FIs directly, on either regular or project basis, and has not outsourced any survey operations since 2004.)


The SWS FIs, wearing face masks, face shields, caps, and long-sleeved shirts, were readily accepted by the Rs. They were equipped with hand sanitizers and non-contact gauges to measure their own and the Rs’ body temperatures before and after interviewing. They gave every R a fresh, complimentary, mask. Most Rs preferred to use their own mask, and took the distinctive SWS royal-blue mask as a souvenir.

As usual, many were quite pleased at their luck of being a participant in an SWS survey. One R, a blind man, was overjoyed that at long last he was able to “see” Social Weather Stations personally. (A blind R is allowed assistance by a friend, in answering questionnaire items involving visual aids.)

The willingness of prospective Rs to be surveyed appears undiminished by the pandemic. The most notable change is that interviews are now done in the dwelling’s doorway—with R and FI two meters apart—rather than inside the home, as was common before.

Now, Rs no longer invite FIs inside; and FIs do not request to enter. Lacking a place to sit, most interviewing is done with the FI standing up. Rarely do FIs take off their backpacks, for fear of picking up infectious dirt from the ground. The long hours of continuous standing and walking about, without being able to sit for a while, makes FI work during a pandemic more physically tiring.


A new difficulty is the lack of public rest-rooms. FIs cannot impose on the hospitality of the Rs, as before. Fewer food shops allow people to use the restroom, having switched to pure take-out service. One solution is to supply FIs with adult diapers. We heard that some pandemic frontliners, both male and female, use diapers, for lack of time to leave their patients to go to a restroom.

Public transportation is still scarce, but no longer completely absent. Jeepney and tricycle fares have risen. Some areas require taking a taxi or else walking. All these are part of the new-normal cost of F2F surveying.


To me, F2F surveying is the tried and tested mode for application of probability sampling. The job of an FI includes randomly selecting households in an area, and then randomly selecting the R for each household, and then doing the interviews.

Some indicators, like Self-Reported Poverty and ladder-scaled Happiness, involve visual aids that are meant for Rs to see, not to be told about. Surveying them cannot be done by phone, but must be done face to face.


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TAGS: coronvirus pandemic, COVID-19, Public transportation, Social Weather Stations (SWS)

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