Anatomy of a survey - 1 : Talk by Rohini Nilekani


Arghyam,, (the organisation that runs the India Water Portal) is conducting a water and sanitation survey in the state of Karnataka. One of the most intensive efforts of its kind, the survey will cover 17,200 households in 28 districts of Karntaka. This will be a people's survey where the surveyors will be from among the people and include students, women members of self help groups, local NGO partners and other interested volunteers.

The survey is entering the intensive phase in December, with the preparatory phases completed and the actual survey work beginning. Through a series of posts here we'll trace the survey process and provide an inside look at what it takes to execute a project like this.

The survey has been titled "ASHWAS" for Arghyam Survey of Household Water and Sanitation. Ashwas also connotes assurance or reassurance in Kannada.

To kick things off, Rohini Nilekani, Chairperson of Arghyam talks about what she feels is the value of surveys like these:


1. Water and sanitation are critical to well being. Are these public services being accessed by all citizens? This is a fundamental question that needs to be asked regularly. And while government does its own evaluation, it is very important that citizens themselves ask these questions and understand from the answers how to become a part of the solution.

2. For this to happen, the design of the survey is intended to capture the concern about water and sanitation as seen from the perspective of the citizen herself. How much water is enough for me and my family? What role does home based storage play in my water security?

3. Equally important, the survey results must come back to the respondents in a form that enhances a shared understanding of the problem. And a process of consultation begins, from individual citizen upwards through the panchayats and to the district and state level administration on what needs to change and how.

4. A survey needs to be repeated regularly and citizens must be able to easily compare year on year (or whatever defined period) progress or the lack of it. This is the key to improve the quality of the demand on public services.

5. The survey has to be a humanizing process. The questioners should understand and believe that they are real change agents, that through them, a whole process of enquiry can begin and be sustained at the grass roots. They should be able to convey their excitement and their conviction to the respondents , this is NOT just another data collection exercise. This must be seen as part of a wider, democratic public movement for safe sustainable watsan for all.

6. The survey exercise should hopefully build some capacity at the local level to create better tools of this nature for ongoing work , whether it be map-making, or more effective communicating.

7. Possibly, the survey teams can also 'leave something behind' for people to work on and re-engage with the survey team on, at a later date. It could simply be some communication, or a postcard that has to be mailed out with some information that emerges.

8. Thanks to efforts like ASER (Annual Status of Education Report, conducted by Pratham and partners,, policy makers are also beginning to understand the positive impacts of citizens' audits and assessment. This survey should hope to move that idea even further.

-- Rohini Nilekani





Subscribe to <none>