Surveying Elites in Developing Countries: Are Web-based Tools Effective?

19 Pages Posted: 31 Aug 2014

Date Written: August 29, 2014


The digital revolution has led to significant advances in the application of field-based research methods, including the use of Web-based tools to design and administer surveys and analyze survey data. Web-based surveys are particularly appealing because other modes of survey administration, such telephone questionnaires or in-person interviews, are costly and can result in several types of biases. While Web-based surveys can help eliminate some of these biases, they also pose significant problems in terms of response rates, data security, and privacy. These issues are exacerbated by the challenges associated with different settings and populations, such as surveys of government elites in developing countries that ask for candid opinions of politically sensitive programs. In such scenarios, there is a potential trade-off between cost and response rate, and biases and security/privacy concerns. This paper will examine these trade-offs, and the opportunities and challenges posed in administering Web-based surveys to developing-country elites in the context of evaluating the performance of international aid programs. Drawing on existing literature on the comparative effectiveness of different modes of survey administration, the paper will begin with a discussion of the key benefits and drawbacks of in-person (and to a lesser degree, paper-based and telephone) surveys versus Web-based surveys. It will then analyze these trade-offs in the context of administering a survey to law enforcement officials as part of an evaluation analyzing the effectiveness of U.S. government assistance to Caribbean nations.

Keywords: survey modes, Web surveys, non-response bias, evaluation methods

JEL Classification: C42

Suggested Citation

Gauck, Jennifer, Surveying Elites in Developing Countries: Are Web-based Tools Effective? (August 29, 2014). APSA 2014 Annual Meeting Paper, Available at SSRN:

Jennifer Gauck (Contact Author)

DevTech Systems, Inc. ( email )

1700 North Moore St.
Suite 1720
Arlington, VA 22209
United States

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