Listening to Young Lives at Work COVID-19 Phone Survey: First Call fieldwork has begun!

Fieldwork training over Zoom


No country has been untouched by the coronavirus crisis and we are only just beginning to understand the significant and far-reaching impact across all our lives. Young Lives at Work’s new COVID-19 phone survey, funded by the Department of International Development (DFID), provides a unique chance to better understand how the crisis is impacting the lives of young women and men across our four study countries, to inform government responses around the world. Our first call will enable researchers to gather vital initial information in terms of health, education and livelihoods, including gender analysis of how these impacts are differentially affecting young women and men.

The Young Lives at Work (YLAW) team has not escaped the effects of the lockdown, with many concerned about vulnerable loved ones and combining home schooling with work. We are delighted therefore that, after a concerted and creative team effort and with much planning, purchasing, piloting and practicing, we have started our virtual fieldwork in Ethiopia, India, Peru, and Vietnam.

Young Lives at Work’s response to the COVID-19 crisis is described on our website here and here. In this blog, we explain how the YLAW team designed the first call and what we anticipate the results will tell us about the impact of the crisis on young people.

First Call: Preparing for an unprecedented situation

We had already prepared most of the face to face Round 6 household survey, originally scheduled for this year, when the pandemic hit; instruments had been drafted and piloting completed in Peru and Ethiopia before the world changed completely. For the new phone survey, we wanted to adapt our own survey instruments as closely as possible in order to keep the consistency of measures that we have been monitoring across previous rounds, whilst ensuring we capture the most important impacts of the COVID-19 crisis.

There were some key restrictions guiding how we compiled the content of the survey:

• Some important measures just cannot be taken over the phone (e.g. anthropometrics, or mathematics tests); or, are not designed to be administered over the phone (e.g., Likert scales).

• Phone surveys are more tiring for participants, so we had to make sure that each call is as short as possible (see the discussion on JPAL’s best practices for phone surveys page).

• We had to consider new ethical issues given that many people are living through an extremely stressful time. We needed to ensure our questions would not be unduly upsetting, and if we have to ask sensitive questions, that we also have protocols for fieldworkers on what to do in cases where participants become upset, and have information to hand in order to advise them if needed. The team also has to be prepared to deal with immediate emergencies that arise due to the lockdown situation. Marta and Gina Crivello, our lead qualitative researcher, are writing a blog about some of the ethical issues that the pandemic is raising for longitudinal research including ours– watch this space.

We took a number of important/critical steps in developing the phone survey:

• We consulted surveys – already developed by the academic community - some of which were aimed at internet users, some for phone surveys (International Coronavirus Survey, JPAL Covid-19 response team, Inter-American Development Bank, World Bank LSMS team, Gender Innovation LAB, Wellcome Trust) to help us work out how to capture information on the effects of the new and rapidly evolving global pandemic, and to ensure comparability.

• We did a pre-pilot in Peru under the guidance of our Fieldwork Manager Sofia Madrid, who has been with the Young Lives project since the very beginning, and has drawn on her wealth of understanding to advise us on how participants may understand the questions, how to make the interview `flow’ more smoothly, and how to introduce complex and challenging topics.

• We sought rapid ethical approval from Oxford University (ODID)’s Ethics committee, as well as in each of the countries, and developed the fieldworker manual and protocols which had to be much more detailed, partly because communication and training is more difficult done remotely, and also because of the tight timescale for this virtual survey. Training took place over zoom in Peru (pictured above), and with social distancing measures in place in Ethiopia, India (see below) and Vietnam. Each enumerator has been provided with a smartphone with an internet plan together with a pair of headphone and a tablet used for the survey administration.

• We decided, given the current difficult circumstances, that it was appropriate to make a small financial payment to participants in all countries (in previous rounds, we have given a small gift in Peru and India and a small financial token in Ethiopia and Vietnam). The amount is not fixed across countries and is in the range of £5-12 per participant, and is given as either cash (money transfer) or phone credit in Ethiopia and Vietnam, and cash in India and Peru.

• Finally, we have ensured that appropriate and clear safeguarding procedures have been incorporated into phone survey protocols and survey manuals; this includes a clear whistleblowing process and code of conduct.

First Call: Beginning a difficult call

We designed the start of the call bearing in mind two important factors: first, that the participants may be in a very difficult situation either due to their own or a family members’ ill health, or the economic situation in the country; and second, that we want to do everything we can to keep the cohort members participating in the survey and minimise attrition during the upcoming main survey rounds in 2021 and 2024.

Our protocol therefore begins with a careful introduction, in which we remind the participant of the last time we spoke to them (during the tracking exercise). The fieldworker then explains that our in-person fieldwork planned for this year is delayed, but that we want to visit them in 2021 if the situation allows. To gain informed consent we a) explain the call will contain some questions about how they themselves and their family are experiencing the crisis, and give the length of time it will take – this is so that participants have an expectation of what it will involve; b) outline confidentiality so that they know they can trust us with their honest answers; and c) explain the importance of the information we will collect, so that they understand why we need to take up their time.

We then gain either consent to proceed or try to reschedule for a more convenient time. If a participant refuses informed consent, we find out their reasons, and remind them that they have been a very valuable participant in our survey for 16 years and we would like to keep in touch again for the next call.

First Call: What will we learn? 

As we noted above, the first call is designed to be fairly short; our aim being to take a snapshot of what our cohorts, the adolescents aged around 19-20 years of our Younger Cohort, and young men and women aged 25 years in the Older Cohort, are facing in terms of health, education and livelihoods. In the second call we will continue to monitor the evolving situation of COVID-19, and delve in more depth into several of our core topics, particularly labour market activities, education, and health. For all the information we collect, we will be able to compare across countries, across the cohorts, between rural and urban communities and across gender. We can also exploit the longitudinal nature of our survey, to compare the situation for e.g. those who have experienced chronic poverty over the years that we have surveyed them against those who are better off.

To obtain the snapshot we are asking our cohorts about:

• Lockdown conditions they are living in and their capacity for self-isolating (space and resources)

• Knowledge about COVID-19: whether and from where they (received any information on) heard about social or physical distancing and self-isolation as a preventive measure against the coronavirus; whether they know the signs/symptoms of the disease?

• Health situation of the household: whether they think someone in the household was infected, and, if so, whether they were tested, had any treatment and their current health status.

• Behavioural responses to COVID-19: what are they doing to try and prevent the infection and specifically, whether they followed any of the key behaviours that WHO has recommended; other ways they have tried to avoid catching the disease; whether and why they left the household during the crisis.

• Effect on household labour: for each household member we try to understand the effect of the crisis on their livelihood (income from their self-employment, job loss, salary cut, suspension without pay, working from home). In the second call we will ask more details about work activities.

• Effect on household education: we check whether any household member has suspended their education, was unable to enrol or is able to learn online.

• Redistribution of caring responsibilities: given that in many countries schools have been closed to understand the effect of this on labour market activities and stress; we anticipate a particular impact on women.

• Food insecurity and access to government support: we ask a single question from the FAO’s 2014 Food Insecurity Experience scale to capture food insecurity and acute poverty in the recent situation: “Was there a time since [Outbreak date] when your household ran out of food because of a lack of money or other resources?”. We also check access to a country-specific list of public programmes that households may be entitled to.

Ending the call

The final question is designed to give us an impression of the overall stress each participant is feeling: "I am nervous when I think about current circumstances"; in the second call we will ask more detailed questions about mental health based on validated scales. We then have a detailed protocol to say goodbye, thanking the participant, and checking if they have any questions for us about the survey, or about the pandemic, the illness or treatment, social distancing or any support programmes mentioned. We then remind them that we will call again in August/September to see how they are doing. The fieldworker notes the time of ending the call and then writes any notes about the case, or issues that have come up which were not captured in the CAPI.

What happens next?

The first call questionnaire is now available on our website here as well as the field manual here which gives the detailed instructions to our fieldworkers. The fieldwork in all four countries will be completed by mid July. As soon as we have the data we will produce headlines with the key findings from this call, so please check our website for updates. The data will be briefly cleaned and archived here as soon as possible. We are in the process of finalising the content of the second call, which will start in August and finalized by mid-October. It will contain the main themes of the YL survey that can be transferred to the phone – labour, education, aspirations, time use, health including mental health.

This is a very difficult time in most parts of the world, and our team are really pulling together to collect information that we hope will be useful in understanding the effect of the virus on the lives of young people who are living in poverty. Watch this space for the next update -  coming soon!