A Guide to Remote Data Collection


In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the security of survey participants and enumerators is of utmost importance, which has led to suspension of all field activities, at least for the foreseeable future

However, if you do decide to transition to a remote method of collecting data, this document by DIME Analytics provides guidelines on best practices for transitioning an existing field survey to  a remote survey. Ideally, we believe it is best to postpone data collection in such situations, as remote surveys usually have lower response rates, and respondents are less likely to provide reliable information (especially on sensitive topics). 

Among the various alternatives to in-person data collection, phone-based surveys are best suited for the typical research population. This guide focuses on explaining the multiple steps involved in transitioning to a phone survey in particular- including updates in training, data quality norms, and project timelines. We conclude this guide by providing a quick overview of alternatives to phone surveys such as web surveys and recorded surveys. We do this because we realize that in certain cases you might not want to use phone surveys, or use a combination of methods to collect your data.  

Note to readers

  • This document assumes that you already have an intermediate-to-advanced understanding of the survey process.
  •  This document draws largely on the previous experiences of the authors as well as resources compiled by various research organizations. The aim is to ensure that quality data collection can continue unrestricted despite limitations on collecting data through conventional methods
  • In case you are looking for information on a particular aspect of the transition process, click on the section-specific links in the list of contents below to skip directly to that section.


Phone surveys

A phone survey or a computer-assisted telephone interview (CATI) is one where the enumerator calls the respondent and asks them the questions over telephone. The enumerator enters these responses onto a programmed digital survey, which is then shared electronically with you and your team. In the context of this guide, we refer to a specific case, that of work-from-home phone surveys. In these surveys, enumerators conduct the interviews from their own homes to avoid any human contact.

It is important to note that it is not always possible to transition to a work-from-home (WFH) phone survey. There are many serious considerations to keep in mind before considering a transition and be extremely cautious when transitioning. In some cases you might have to suspend data-collection activities entirely. In the following section, we discuss the conditions under which the transition to a phone survey is feasible. 


In cases where you believe it is feasible to conduct data collection over the phone, you must keep in mind certain considerations. These include:

  • Is it practical to ask these questions over a telephone?
  • This is an important consideration because in some cases asking questions over the phone can drastically alter the nature of your data, or the manner in which respondents interpret your questions.

  • While there are a broad range of questions that you can ask over the phone as well, there are a few exceptions like:
  • Questions on sensitive topics (such as gender-based violence), and 
  • Questions with test components (such as a Math test for a school-based survey).

  • How long is the survey? Can I reduce the average duration without affecting the outcomes of interest? 
  • General guidelines and best practices suggest that phone interviews should be short and longer surveys result in lower response rates. If your original questionnaire (for a field survey) took longer than 20 minutes to answer (on average), you might need to reduce the length of your questionnaire or the number of questions when transitioning to a phone survey.

  • In cases where this is not possible, you might consider the feasibility of conducting the survey over multiple phone calls.