Exciting survey software from Surveybe

While “exciting survey software” is not a phrase I ever thought I would find myself typing, it does seem apt for Surveybe.  Steven Broadbent kindly gave me a demonstration of the software after I wrote about survey softwares for mixed method research earlier this year, and there were a number of features that I found impressive.  Among the highlights:

  • The household roster section is designed for panel data.  After a roster is created at baseline, names can still be edited and additional family members added during the follow-up.  It’s also easy to enable or disable labor and education options based on household members’ ages.
  • Questions can have photos displayed alongside them.  My favorite part!  In the sample survey, photos were used to clarify measures or definitions.  For instance, the photo below is of a “medium-sized” bunch of bananas.  This is ideal for agricultural surveys, where production is often measured by volume instead of weight.  I imagine it would also be useful for health surveys (“what did that rash look like?”).  I would have really liked this feature for the survey where I had a number of detailed conversations about which types of toilets in Kinshasa counted as “improved” – simply showing people a photo of the qualifying toilets would have been much faster.


  • Support for multiple languages.  Surveybe can handle non-Latin scripts, and can easily switch between instruments in different languages.
  • Cool export features.  Data can be exported in Stata, SPSS or CSV formats.  If you’ve ever gone through multiple versions of a questionnaire trying to match variable q3_a4 to its original question, Surveybe fixes this by providing options to export question text directly to Stata.  You can also set variable names within Surveybe, and they’ll remain the same even if you later change the order of the questions.  (I only asked about Stata, since that’s what I use, but I assume this is also true for SPSS.)
  • Data security.  Exported data is automatically encrypted and can only be unencrypted by the Surveybe file manager.  This sounds particularly attractive after the demise of TrueCrypt sent everyone scrambling to re-encrypt raw survey data.

Surveybe does appear to require slightly more programming competence than KoBoToolbox, particularly a minimal familiarity with SQL.  Unlike most of the softwares I mentioned in my other post, it runs on Windows.  There do seem to be a number of good options for Windows tablets available, and they’re comparable in price to Android tablets, which I know is a consideration for many people who end up choosing ODK-based survey softwares.  While I don’t personally have plans for large-N data collection for my thesis at the moment, Surveybe will definitely be high on my list if I end up managing this type of project in the future.

The endonym map of Africa

If you ever need a list of the names of African countries in their official languages, then Endonym Map has you covered.  Here’s a screenshot; click over for the interactive version, and the rest of the world.

Endonym Africa

The options for zooming in on the site didn’t allow me to get the whole continent in a single picture.  No offense intended to the Republic of South Africa and Muso Oa Lesotho.

What’s more expensive, war or murder?

If you guessed war, you’d be wrong.  Anke Hoeffler and James Fearon recently released a fascinating systematic review of the benefits of programs aimed at reducing different types of violence.  There’s a brief summary at the CSAE blog, which was also the source of the graph below.  To quote the introduction to the full report,

Our estimates suggest that the costs of violence are high; the welfare cost of collective, interpersonal violence, harsh child discipline, intimate partner violence and sexual abuse are equivalent to around 11 per cent of global GDP [annually]. The cost of homicides are much larger than the cost of civil conflict. However, violence perpetrated in the home appears to be the most prevalent form of violence. Domestic abuse of women and children should no longer be regarded as a private matter but a public health concern. … We argue for moving beyond a near-exclusive focus on civil war violence – concern with which has increased in the development community and is admirable and important – to recognizing that the costs of interpersonal violence are probably much larger but are almost wholly neglected in current development programming (pp. iii – iv).

The comparison between the estimated costs of civil war and “domestic” crimes like child abuse or intimate partner violence is staggering.

global cost of violenceSo why do academics, policymakers and development actors tend to focus on the form of violence that’s actually least costly?  There’s the obvious point that conflict and terrorism are very public events, while child abuse and intimate partner violence tend to occur in private and often go unreported.  War is also perceived as being more likely to be deadly, which might be true, but fails to account for the fact that domestic violence is much more prevalent.  And I think there’s also a strong component of structural misogyny at play here.  Civil wars and terrorism are seen as serious topics, often analyzed and carried out by men, while domestic violence is described as a women’s issue – something only of importance to a lesser constituency.  (Consider the fact that no one’s asking if the Yazidis somehow deserved ISIS’ violence towards them, while many people claim that female victims of domestic violence must have done something to provoke their abusers.  Now think about how notions of “deserving violence” correlate with the importance we put on crafting good policy responses to violence.)  This report is a really important corrective to our tendency to write off domestic violence, and I’m quite interested to see how policymakers and development practitioners will respond.

Follow-up comments on Mosul and Mexico

After I published posts on patterns of violence in Mosul and Chicago and Boston and Mexico this summer, John Bertetto, the managing editor at Foreign Intrigue (which published the original Boston/Mexico piece), wrote to me with some great comments.  Republishing his email here, with his permission (and slight edits to the formatting).

In re: Boston and Mexico:

Combating DTOs [drug trafficking organizations] is a huge endeavor, obviously, but one fraught with opportunity to be successful. As vertically integrated organizations, they provide ample means for intervention. Focusing on the drugs will never be sufficient; they are traffickers, and traffickers traffic. What those items are, that’s another matter. DTO derive substantial profit because they currently traffic their own product, but experience has shown that when times are lean or when other markets provide greater profits they will diversify into other things, particularly humans. But trafficking networks can be broken, and a comprehensive strategy to target DTOs should include operations that focus on this, as well as on all other aspects of the trade – from financing to production, packaging, transportation, trafficking, wholesales, and economic diversification (using illegal revenues to create legitimate businesses) – provides many avenues from which we can intercede and work inward, dismantling the organization. What is missing, typically, is coordination and political will/lack of corruption. I do like the idea Dan offers of vetting and training local autodefensas – not so much as a paramilitary force but as a community watch group. This empowers locals and helps embolden them to report activities. Concurrently I’d get the military out of the DTO fighting business. This is an LE [law enforcement] issue, and should remain one. Use of the military sends the wrong message to both the community and the criminals. The community feels as though their is no law and that their is a war going on, and the criminals feel like soldiers. They should feel like the criminals they are, and everyone should feel that their is a sense of law.

Street gangs are differently primarily because they are not vertically integrated. Strategies should include isolation from needed criminal resources as well as alleviation of conditions that lend themselves to criminal activity. I’ve written a bit on dealing with street gangs, including pieces specifically addressing targeting considerations and dealing with complexity.

In re: Chicago and Mosul:

I wrote a piece at Foreign Intrigue that may be on interest to you, if you have not already seen them. In “Undergoverned Spaces” I talk a bit about some of what you address, specifically what comparisons we can make between places like Chicago and Mosul. For me, right now there is a fundamental taxonomy problem. We have this dichotomy of governed v. ungoverned that lets us frame many issues incorrectly, and from there it’s all downhill. The first question should not be “Is there governance or is there not governance,” but rather “Is there sufficient governance, is there insufficient governance, or is their no governance.” If we look at some areas of Chicago, saying their is sufficient governance is clearly incorrect, but saying their is no governance or lawlessness is equally incorrect. The issue is more profound when we look at places like Iraq, Afghanistan, or even the Ukraine – an excellent example now because we have not walked all over it and the issues like we have Iraq and Afghanistan. The question of “un/undergoverned” makes us ask of foreign countries “What would be our role here: building a government or supporting one already in place?” This has cascading effects across everything else, from how we craft our IR policy, how we deliver or messaging, what kind of support we lend, the size of our commitment, if we are going to deploy US forces and, if so, what and how large. For domestic US cities, the answer will always be “undergoverned,” and from here we conduct a systems analysis to determine which areas of governance are lacking and determine how to bring those up to par.”

As you might imagine, I am totally on board with this point of view on governed vs. ungoverned spaces.

Is fighting rebel groups the only way to defeat them?

Here’s another great paragraph from the same article I discussed in my last post, by D’Errico, Kalala, Bashige Nzigire, Maisha and Malemo Kalisya:

Community-led initiatives for mitigating or removing the risk of exposure to [violence in eastern DR Congo] also exist. … In Kitutu, a rural community located next to a forest used as a base by soldiers of the Forces Démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda – FDLR) who have inflicted numerous acts of rape and violence on community members for nearly a decade, residents have lobbied United Nations’ officials to escort them to FDLR camps so they can invite the soldiers to come and live among them. They have also offered to build houses for the soldiers. According to respondents, integrating the soldiers into community life is the only way to resolve the violence. They believe the community plays a more important role in this process than international agencies, since they are genuinely willing to invite soldiers to live with them, with the prerequisite that they lay down their weapons.

How many Western assumptions about conflict does would this strategy upend?  Communities are passive victims of rebel groups.  Peacekeepers should provide a buffer between armed groups and civilians.  Rebels must be militarily defeated or made to sign peace treaties.  I suspect this type of local-level negotiation is actually very common, and probably has more to do with how rebels behave than political scientists tend to think.

Power dynamics and research ethics

From a recent article on the nexus between rape and access to healthcare in eastern DRC, by Nicole D’Errico, Tshibangu Kalala, Louise Bashige Nzigire, Felicien Maisha and Luc Malemo Kalisya:

In public forums, Congolese people have also questioned whether or not they benefit from efforts made towards documenting gender-based violence. At one such event organised by patients in a hospital in Goma in June 2010, one survivor of rape stated, ‘[Researchers] say they can’t pay us [for research] because that would be unethical, but they take our dignity for free. They are paid to come here to talk to us but we get nothing!’ Many listeners agreed, with this speaker and a subsequent speaker asked whether or not foreign professors are paid to teach classes based on the knowledge gained from visits to the DRC, and suggested that such payments should be shared with their informants. (p. 53)

This is a huge issue in thinking about the ethics of research in low-income countries, particularly (but not exclusively) as a researcher from a different country.   Western academics are frequently reminded to strive for neutrality – to not to let personal opinions get bound up in their projects, to not pay interview subjects lest they create incentives to participate and bias their samples – but I think we’re often so focused on this that we lose sight of the power dynamics that are also inherently part of the research process.

So what can be done about this?  At a minimum, researchers ought to be compensating their respondents for the time it took to participate in the interview.  Sharing the completed research with respondents is also best practice, although I imagine this might have been cold comfort to the speaker quoted above.  I also respect the work that IPA is doing in disseminating results to government agencies and NGOs in the countries where it works, like this education conference in Burkina Faso, and this savings & payments conference in Uganda.  Other researchers I know have spent some time working as lecturers in universities in the countries where they work.  These ideas don’t address all of the speaker’s concerns, but they’re a useful step towards ensuring that research results aren’t locked in gated journals in the academic’s home country.

What are some other ways researchers can make sure they’re not simply taking from their respondents without giving back?

On political order in weak states

I’ve come across two great articles recently that push back against the idea that a weak central government leads to lawlessness and a lack of political order at the local level.  At Pambazuka, Patience Kabamba writes about the way that businesspeople from the Nande ethnic group have created a decently well-functioning shadow state in the eastern Congolese city of Butembo.  Quoting at length because this is such a fascinating story about globalization and state formation:

In the absence of an effective national government and in the presence of many competitors for power, the Nande … have prospered for more than three decades, managing to build and protect self-sustaining transnational economic enterprises. … The Nande import containers of goods ranging from textiles, motorbikes, and automobiles to spare engines, medicine and other merchandise from East Africa, the Persian Gulf, Southeast Asia and China, [and] export agricultural products ranging from coffee, potatoes and beans to papaya, latex and other vegetables as well as minerals such as gold, coltan, wolfram and cassiterites. The elite of Butembo, the most successful import-export traders, are millionaires in US Dollar amounts…

In addition to a booming import-export trade, the Nande have significantly contributed to the infrastructure of Butembo, taking over multiple functions previously assigned to the state. Each Nande trader is responsible for 50 kilometers of road. A tollgate is generally organized and the money collected is used to repair and mend the roads. …  As a result, the Nande region is one of the only places in the country, apart from Katanga— a central site of mineral exploitation and extraction—that has good road networks. Butembo also sports a new airport, a hydroelectric dam and an impressive, three-story mayoral office. The Nande distribute food, clothes and medicine to refugees and contribute significant sums to the construction and maintenance of the local universities. The local federation of traders even has a court that is often used in lieu of the state court for litigations concerning succession and land ownership.

Maria Eriksson Baaz and Judith Verweijen have a good piece at Democracy in Africa about the fact that even the notoriously predatory Congolese army also serves some law enforcement functions.  In eastern DRC, citizens are able to negotiate with the army to carry out extra-legal judiciary tasks that wouldn’t otherwise take place through the corrupt formal system:

It has become a relatively widespread practice for civilians to solicit the FARDC to intervene in all sorts of conflicts, located on a wide private-public spectrum. These include disputes over debts, the division of profits, land, and other property, but also conflicts related to a wide range of private and family issues, like debts, dowry, divorces, love affairs and personal rivalries. The reasons for this must largely be located in the weak capabilities and legitimacy of local civilian authorities, and the inaccessibility, slow pace and costly nature of existing dispute-resolution mechanisms and formal justice.

I’ll give the last word to Baaz and Verweijen: “These findings highlight the limited analytical utility of approaches to the Congolese state which conceptualize it as a monolithic whole and focus solely on its predatory and abusive practices. While such practices are undeniably omnipresent, they represent only one dimension of what the state apparatus in the DRC is and does.”