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Dealing with sensitive questions in the PPI?

Matt Ripley
• Impact Programme
• UK
• 04/13/17

Hi all,

A question from the DFID Impact Programme, which is working in the impact investing space. 

We've used the PPI to do research for some portfolio companies in Africa. While PPI is super cost-effective and yields insights which have both social (poverty rates) as well as business value (market segmentaiton by income level), we do have a concern about the personal nature of some of the questions. Would be interested to see if anyone else has encountered the same issues...or have good ways to deal with them.

What do we mean by personal questions? Well, stuff like ownership of toilets is an obvious one - or in some cultures, female literacy rates or number of elderly people in the household. During data collection, we have seen some respondents questioning why they are being asked these questions and showing reluctance to participate in the survey. 

The PPI guidance has strategies to get around this (reassuring respondents that the information collected is confidential, and has nothing to do with taxation etc), but even if we could find fixes - should we be asking these questions in the first place?

Beyond ethical consideratons - we worry we're treating respondents like 'beneficaries' not 'customers'...and being extractive rather than empowering by asking about toilets etc.. And recent research in the HBR has shown that both the questions we ask and the way we frame them influences the respondent's attitudes towards the company in question ( In the impact investing space we're not deal not with microfinance 'clients' but, more often than not, the consumers of products/services of venture capital-backed companies. So if we're administering PPI on behalf of these companies, are we unwittingly doing harm to customer attitudes by 'negative' surveying?

Would love to hear thoughts on this.