[Working session] Overcoming the difficulties of field surveys

  • Mathilde BAUWIN, ADA
  • Fanny SERRE, Advans Microfinance Network
  • Kawien ZIEDSES DES PLANTES, Oikocredit


Mathilde BAUWIN introduced this working session, the aim being to share experiences with quantitative and qualitative surveys, and the impact of COVID-19 on implementing surveys among financial service providers and their beneficiaries. The session offered an opportunity to exchange on these difficulties and to share the solutions that some have been able to find or test so far.

Some examples of recent field research on the COVID crisis that were shared as part of the session were:

  • The CGAP Pulse survey
  • A COVID-19 Client Interview Tool for Financial Service Providers
  • Foundation Grameen Crédit Agricole, ADA and Inpulse: Survey on the impact of Covid-19 on MFIs

Peter ZETTERLI, from CGAP, presented the qualitative and quantitative survey that CGAP is currently conducting for a ‘state of the MFI industry’ during COVID. Information has been collected through self-reporting instruments used by nearly 400 MFIs. Technical information and a data dashboard are available at www.cgap.org/pulse. Participation in the survey was quite promising from the start, in July 2020, due to the large demand for data to study key performance areas such as liquidity, portfolio quality and social inclusion across the sector.

Fanny SERRE, from Advans Microfinance Network, explained the network’s field research to drive financial inclusion for its African and Asian MFIs through innovation and impact. They have two main survey streams: a ‘global satisfaction survey’ and a ‘global COVID impact survey’; the first survey stream has been largely conducted in-house, and the second stream with external parties. Some elements that have been critical to facilitate these surveys are the provision of both centralized and local processing capacity, adequate communication technology, and the capacity to translate results into actionable policies.

Kawien ZIEDSES DES PLANTES, from the Global Social Performance Specialist, explained Oikocredit’s Client Outcomes Program with 20 MFIs, covering some 20 million clients. With the pandemic, Oikocredit wanted to collect more data, but faced various obstacles: some members had started tracking COVID impact already, but others were faced with limited technical and financial resources. The Outcomes Program brought useful insights; dashboards with collected data were analysed by management in workshops, resulting in tailored action plans.

Bauwin added that ADA, together with institutional partners, experimented with two COVID survey models: one for MFIs, and one for their clients, applying tested data collection and processing methodologies. As with the examples cited before, initially high participation watered down somewhat in the course of time, but remained sufficient to continue the surveys, albeit on a slightly less intensive level. Data are used internally first, and then shared and published to a wider audience.


The discussion evolved around three main topics:

Topic 1: What type of data do you collect and who or what drives this decision? Who initiated data collection, the FSP or you as a support organisation? What is the consequence on the type of data to collect: harmonised vs. customised data? What are the pros and cons?

According to Zetterli, data collection must be easy and convenient for participating MFIs, not adding too much to their regular reporting load. For quantitative data, they aimed to synchronise with existing reporting formats, i.e. data essentially already available. This allowed for qualitative data collection to be up-to-date. Zetterli then pointed to the indicators which were considered crucial for what they needed to know; this helped them to trim the surveys down to manageable proportions.

Bauwin commented that ADA started from the opposite angle, with a strong focus on qualitative data in order not to rely too much on self-reported quantitative data. In addition, Serre explained that decision making in Advans is rather locally driven. They aim to be inquisitive, which has helped them to become more institutionalised on the ground. However, quality of the process is still considered to be a central responsibility; capacity building at local level may change that over time. Discussion and action at central level must drive dissemination or harmonisation of information with third parties.

Bauwin concluded that both quality and ownership of survey results are important. If centrally processed, safety valves need to ensure that the final results are still in line with how they were initially understood locally.

Topic 2: Talking about data collection methodologies, what is your experience with external parties versus internal staff; web/phone/SMS/face-to-face interviews, specific data collection tools (survey monkey, kobo toolbox, typeform, etc.); how do you deal with the cost issue?

Ziedses Des Plantes started this topic by referring to the previous dialogue: MFIs increasingly need to come up with reliable performance figures beyond previous requirements, for their stakeholders as well as for regulators. Hence, the issue of reliable data collection has become more urgent. From a perspective of professionalism and independence, it is preferred and recommended to involve external parties, if and when affordable. Internal surveys are important for comparison and capacity building. Bauwin agreed with this point of view, adding that commissioned work is usually completed much faster as well.

Serre added that clients may prefer to talk with independent outsiders, rather than with internal MFI staff. In addition, whenever possible face-to-face interviews are preferred over enquires by phone. Zetterli adds to this point that CGAP has developed a new intuitive interface with MFR/Atlas that surveyors can use.

Topic 3: Talking about data analysis and use: where do you see the main challenges; what solutions have you found or tested?

According to Serre, it takes quite an effort to present data intelligently, and to structure overall findings in a way that others can use them progressively for action and policy making. It is also important to provide subsequent support to ensuing initiatives. Serre provided an example of surveys indicating that clients are much worse off because of the pandemic. Therefore MFIs need support to design risk mitigation measures, and need to educate front office staff to work with customers to find solutions in terms of rescheduling loans, or issue bridging top-up loans.

Ziedses Des Plantes commented that there is only limited time for exploring and urgent action is required. Therefore you often have to do with the data that are available to you, even when knowing that the relevance thereof is rapidly diminishing. The key is to stick close to your clients, share best practices in a peer-to-peer setting, and keep it simple.

Bauwin concluded the session, and referred to a one-question poll for the audience to respond to. The question was: what do MFIs need the most in terms of support to implement such surveys? Most participants answered that MFIs need support to analyse data (more than support to define the data to collect, support to collect data, or support to use survey results).