Capturing Sensitive Information from Difficult-to-Reach Populations: Evidence from a Novel Internet-Based Survey in Yemen

As part of a study with the World Bank’s Poverty and Equity Global Practice, RIWI’s RDIT was used to “assesses the ability of novel and anonymous internet-based surveys to elicit sensitive information in the Republic of Yemen’s conflict by comparing identical sensitive and non-sensitive questions in an internet survey to a concurrent mobile phone survey.” by fielding an RDIT survey for one month between January 11 and February 10, 2019. The survey collected a total of 5,198 completed the entire survey. The findings of the study show that there was a significant difference between the modalities tested (online RDIT vs. phone surveys), whereby a larger share of respondents felt comfortable expressing sensitive views with RDIT. Overall, this study concludes that RDIT is an “effective tool to use in conjunction with other techniques to acquire information that would otherwise be difficult to collect”.

The study investigated RDIT’s ability to better elicit sensitive information in conflict ridden zones, as people may be hesitant to share sensitive information. The main factor contributing to RDIT’s effectiveness is that in an anonymous web survey, respondents “worry less about the social desirability of their answers, being target for their opinions, or about any of the other issues that might limit respondents’ willingness to answer sensitive questions”.

The study was applied specifically in Yemen, as the ongoing conflict unravels. Yemen is a setting that “illustrates how traditionally sensitive behaviors become more prevalent and how a wide range of routine data can become sensitive in a conflict setting”. The large number of parties to the conflict and the large amount of violence increases the sensitivity of data collection surrounding the conflict. For example, it might be difficult for individuals to openly or without qualification support certain groups in the conflict that are involved in a large amount of violence, particularly violence that affects civilians. As such, when asked about the conflict, traditional modalities of data collection are not accurate in describing the feelings of the entire population. Besides accuracy of sensitive data, other problems arise, such as collecting data at all. The World Bank reports that “aside from intermittent food security assessments that are performed approximately every two years and are painstakingly negotiated with DFA authorities and remote food security monitoring via mobile phone, there is very little household level data collected in the country”. Hence, leaving significant gaps as to how households deal with the humanitarian disaster, and all the ways in which “the conflict intersects with Yemenis’ lives”. As such, RDIT offers a fast, accurate, and reliable solution to access hard to reach populations in conflict affected areas, and ask sensitive questions.