Almost anything you can think of –
The logistics challenges are immense, including bad weather, flooding, rough terrain and bad roads, poor Internet connectivity or phone reception, and many others. Some of our fieldworkers have walked (or gone on horseback) for many miles, built makeshift bridges, or endured long boat rides to reach remote locations.
COVID-19 required us to pause fieldwork for about seven months in 2020. And before that, the 2014-15 Ebola outbreak forced us to delay Round 6 fieldwork in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea. Unanticipated political events can also shake things up, as when an unexpected presidential transition occurred while we were in the middle of fieldwork.
Threats to the physical safety and security of our fieldworkers have sometimes compelled us to suspend fieldwork or modify our sample to avoid certain areas experiencing unrest, violent civil conflict, or insurgency.
In addition, some governments are more open and accepting of public opinion polling than others. In less receptive locations, our fieldwork teams sometimes fear reprisals from government or local authorities. Fieldworkers have occasionally been detained by local authorities, although we’re happy to report that we’ve never faced a truly serious problem of this sort.
At the same time, in some countries, especially those that are post-conflict or that have emerged from repressive rule, respondents themselves may tend to be suspicious of our interviewers’ motives, viewing them as possible government agents. This may make them afraid to answer politically sensitive questions for fear of reprisals. But we are careful to protect respondents’ confidentiality, and on the whole, we have found that the vast majority of our respondents are willing to share their views, both positive and negative, about their governments and their lives.
Indeed, we have found that respondents who say they feel unsafe voicing their opinions in public offer more critical evaluations of their government than those without such concerns, because they see our interviews as a safe way to send a message to the government.
It is also important to note that the challenges don’t necessarily end once we have the data. We sometimes encounter resistance on the part of government officials when it comes to accepting the results, especially when the findings are deemed unflattering or politically unfavorable. Governments sometimes question our methodology or accuse Afrobarometer of bias. However, we have built a reputation across the continent for both quality and independence, and we sometimes call on this when we need to convince officials of our commitment to producing high-quality, reliable, independent survey data.
Finally, of course, there is the constant challenge of funding. Sending interviewers long distances to conduct personal interviews of 1,200 respondents in each of 35 countries is an expensive proposition. While we have been fortunate to have unwavering support from some multilateral and bilateral funders as well as some private foundations, it is always a challenge to find enough funding to support this work.