Thursday, 15.15-16.45 (Balcony E)

Best practices for SMS and IVR Survey design. Charles Lau, RTI International; Eduardo Jezierski, InSTEDD; Joseph Agoada, InSTEDD
Interactive voice response (IVR) and short message service (SMS) are powerful tools to conduct fast and inexpensive surveys. Drawing from our methodological research and practical experience, we will introduce IVR and SMS and provide concrete guidance for optimizing these surveys. We will focus on three specific topics: (1) writing introductions and questions that produce scientifically valid data; (2) optimizing survey design (mixed modes, retries, scheduling, etc.) to encourage response; and (3) following technology best practices for implementing small to large surveys.

Session Level:

Beginner, Intermediate.

Session Details:

Short message service (SMS) and interactive voice response (IVR) are powerful tools to conduct rapid and inexpensive surveys. In SMS surveys, respondents receive text messages, provide responses by replying to the SMS, and then receive the next question by SMS. IVR surveys are automated voice calls, in which respondents listen to recordings of survey questions and provide their responses by selecting numbers on a keypad.

SMS and IVR surveys have flourished over the past decade, mostly because they are fast and inexpensive. These surveys also work on virtually any mobile phone, and can reach a large and geographically diverse population rapidly. SMS and IVR are also useful tools for reaching people in conflict-affected areas. As a result, a variety of stakeholders (development programs, commercial firms, NGOs, researchers, and governments) have embraced SMS and IVR as a standard tool for surveys and data collection. In this session, we will introduce IVR and SMS, and provide concrete guidance for optimizing these surveys. We will focus on three specific topics:

  1. Writing introductions and questions that produce scientifically valid data. Drawing from our methods research and project experience, we will present best practices for how to write persuasive survey introductions that boost response rates and representativeness. We will also highlight best ways to write questions to maximize clarity and produce quality data.
  2. Optimizing survey design to encourage response: We will describe the design decisions for SMS and IVR surveys, and provide tips about how to encourage response through using multiple modes (sequentially or concurrently), reminders and retries, sample release, and call scheduling.
  3. Following technology best practices for implementing small to large surveys. In this section, we will list the technology components necessary for conducting SMS and IVR surveys, including open-source software tools, channels for delivering SMS and IVR, and data hosting solutions.

This session will emphasize concrete solutions that allow you to conduct quality SMS and IVR surveys. We will begin the session by describing how SMS and IVR modes work through a short demo of an open source, mixed-mode survey tool, Surveda. For each of the three topics, we will present best practices, and hold a short breakout session where participants can put these best practices into action by creating a survey in real-time. By the end of the session, participants will learn best practices, but also get hands-on experience.

Session Leads:

Charles Lau, Survey Methodologist, RTI International.
Charles is a Survey Methodologist who has led surveys in 17 countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. His recent work focuses on mobile phone surveys using short message service (SMS), interactive voice response (IVR), computer-assisted telephone interviewing (CATI), mobile web, and mixed mode approaches. With funding from governments, foundations, and commercial clients, his work covers various topics including health, education, politics, and technology. Dr. Lau publishes research on issues of representativeness and measurement in new modes of data collection (SMS, IVR, CATI, Web), cross-cultural differences in survey response styles, and sampling approaches in lower income countries. More on Charles here, or at RTI International.

Eduardo Jezierski, Chief Executive Officer and Chief Technology Officer, InSTEDD. Eduardo has spent his career designing, implementing and deploying software solutions on a global scale. A practitioner of agile software design approaches, he has built and led numerous global teams in producing rapid, mission-critical assets, and has presented on software architectures and design approaches for large distributed systems in conferences around the globe. At InSTEDD, Eduardo leads a team of designers, developers and other subject matter experts in the design and development of open sources tools for mobile interactions, health information systems, connected diagnostics and support MOHs, NGOS and other partners to use design and innovative technology as part of their programs. More on Eduardo here or at InSTEDD.

Joseph Agoada, Global Communications Lead, InSTEDD. Joseph brings over nine years of communication experience in complex international programs and partnerships. In 2006 he founded a non-profit which delivered appropriate technology and capacity building to East Africa. The nonprofit work led to employment with teams in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology ( 2008 – 2009) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (2010 – 2014). In 2011 founded the UNICEF-Geographic Information System (GIS) a mobile mapping innovation deployed for youth focused community risk reduction in Brazil, Haiti, Argentina and Cameroon. Joseph joined the InSTEDD team in 2014 in the Global Communication role. Joseph is passionate about community driven innovation and is an active member of the social intrapreneurship community and is a published author on, and the Huffington Post. Learn more about Joseph here and at InSTEDD.