August 22, 2018

Household surveys and the key to effective evaluation

Cool Earth programmes team have just finished a big piece of work redesigning the household survey we use to monitor and evaluate our impact. Programme Officer Cat Walker tells us why it’s so important.

When you work with people it’s essential to evaluate how you’re impacting their lives, and whether you are having a positive impact or not. By identifying the needs of the people you work with, you can be more effective in supporting them.

household surveys Cat Walker

There are a number of tools that can be used to do this, and which you use depends on the group of people you’re working with and the type of information you are seeking to find out. Cool Earth works with communities, so we want to be able to get a breadth of perceptions and opinions from everyone. This gives a clear representation to feedback into our planning.

One of the best ways to do this is by using household surveys. It’s something that Cool Earth has been doing since the start of our partnerships. Questions in the survey focus on livelihoods, access to services and relationships with the forest.

This is so we can monitor socio-economic change in the partnerships, understand general contextual changes and identify needs for the community. The overall goal is identifying what households can or should invest in. There’s a common misconception that it’s much too hard to monitor and learn from socio-economic changes. Yes, it can be difficult, but it’s not impossible. And that’s why Cool Earth is continually developing tools to do that.

Hannah Peck community partnership

Any data we collect from people is owned by the community themselves and on request we delete this data from our systems at any time. We also present the anonymised results of any surveys back to the communities as soon as possible after it is collected.

Surveys at household level should provide a clear, representative picture and Cool Earth conducts them every two years. It’s a big process to conduct this 40-minute survey with each household. As much as we’ve tried to strip it back, it takes up people’s time. If we repeated it too frequently participants would possibly experience research fatigue. Two years also gives time to pick up appreciable changes, because tangible change in communities can be gradual.

Education in community

We need to highlight the positives and of course address any unintended negative impacts of what we do. You design, you implement, you monitor along the way, you evaluate and then you adjust your design. It’s about learning, and adaptive management – an iterative cycle of improvement. That is the gold stamp. That’s what we should try to do, and household surveys are a key tool.


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