Study finds IVR Surveys are a cost-effective alternative to Household Surveys

Eunice Sefa, FHI 360, Nii Lante Heward-Mills and Jennifer Henderson, Viamo

The Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) are repeated every five years to generate reliable household data for policy, planning, and monitoring. In consideration of high mobile phone penetration in Ghana and the lack of resources to conduct large-scale household surveys, the USAID Communicate for Health program, implemented by FHI 360 in Ghana, trialed mobile phone data collection as its main method to monitor and evaluate its multi-year integrated GoodLife, Live it Well mass media campaign.

The results are interesting. First, mobile Interactive Voice Response (IVR) surveys are significantly cheaper than in-person household surveys. One completed response for this mobile survey cost $5 USD, whereas a complete response for a household survey can cost upwards of $30 USD. Mobile surveys are also faster: they take an average of one month from start to finish, whereas household surveys usually take at minimum four months to complete (p. 330).

The 2017 Communicate for Health IVR survey had a response rate of 31.3%, which is comparable to other national health mobile phone surveys. Further, the large majority (81.33%) of eligible respondents completed the interview once they started. This is comparable to the 2011 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System and the 2011 National Young Adult Health Survey conducted via RDD on cell phones in the United States which yielded response rates of 28% and 24%, respectively. Likewise, the 2012 Australian New South Wales Population Health Survey obtained a 32% response rate from mobile phone surveys. The Australian pilot RDD mobile phone survey with women yielded a 45% response rate.

Given that the response rates were comparable to other survey research methodologies, and that once a person was deemed eligible for survey response, they were highly likely to complete the survey, the research team concluded that “These data add to the small but growing research base documenting that mobile phone survey research in countries like Ghana is feasible, fast, and potentially cost-effective.” 

Within the nine months of programming, findings from the project’s IVR surveys suggest important self-reported improvements in exposure to health messaging, including awareness of the GoodLife campaign, and exposure to messages on specific health topics and behaviors. For instance, the data suggested a small net increase from 61% to 64% for insecticide-treated net use among children under five.

Following the robust findings of this survey, FHI 360 has deployed IVR surveys for multi-year Behaviour Change Communication (BCC) projects in Malawi, with plans for more surveys in Zimbabwe and Tanzania.

Read the full research publication in PLOS ONE