Data gathering is one of the most important steps in humanitarian work. It provides important information for prioritizing projects in the field, measuring outcomes and providing decision makers with important facts for future planning.
The general difficulties of data gathering are further affected by the nature of the conflict in Syria, which is complex, continuously changing and heavily localized. This causes community dynamics to vary considerably from one community to another, which in turn affects the rate of responsiveness of people in each community. This is just one example of a range of risks and challenges that face enumerators working in the field in Syria. The trust team were asked what their perception of the risks, challenges and difficulties were in data collection during their experiences working in Syria.
- Air strikes and bombing density, especially in areas like Idleb; where air strikes occur almost daily. Air strikes are generally intensified in a main town or city and reduced in remote towns.
- Booby traps and Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) that explode in the middle of markets and roads.
- The chances of getting kidnapped, especially during the night.
- Detention by authorities if no work permit or prior approval to work is provided by enumerators
- Community centers or local councils – one of the crucial sources for gathering data, are more prone to getting bombed.
- Kidnapping incidents that target highly-paid or foreign humanitarian workers.
- Lack of knowledge of some geographical areas by enumerators
- Lack of experience of enumerators which cause some problems with stakeholders (government authorities, public schools, etc…)
- Unwillingness of respondents to use mobile phones for data collection
- Unwillingness of respondents to use GPS out of fear that it could be used to target them for air strikes
- Respondents not providing documents that are important in data gathering due to security concerns, or loss of documents.
- Some respondents provide false or inaccurate information thinking they might get more assistance.
- Some respondents are skeptical of the survey and its aims and want financial remuneration in return.
- Difficulty in understanding some questions by respondents.
- Work-related stress for enumerators (not less than 8 hrs of work in field, continuous travel for long hours and far destinations, not well compensated, etc….)
- False or exaggerated data provided by some parties (camp managers, local councils, etc…)
- The issues of bias and the maintenance of neutrality of data collectors.
- Lack or unwillingness of some respondents to answer surveys due to several reasons:
- Unsuitable work hours (8-10) where housewives are normally busy with housework
- Sometimes there is a lack of credibility due to the existence of many organisations gathering data and making promises to assist respondents and not fulfilling them
- Bad psychological conditions of respondents, especially IDPs in camps
- Fear that gathered information will harm them and reach Syrian authorities.
- Lack of public transportation, leading enumerators to rent private cars which are expensive
- Road difficulty and closure of some roads, which leads team to take longer routes
- Lack of special places to conduct community meetings or focus group meetings
- Lack of direct means of communication in case the need arises to ask something on the spot
- Change in address of many beneficiaries due to unstable situation
- Difficulty in allowing women to work by some authorities or family members especially without a closely related-male companion
- Difficulty in charging mobile phones when using electronic data gathering devices.
Readers: from your experience, what do you suggest to face/reduce the above challenges / risks given the highly dynamic environment in Syria?