A COVID-safe endline evaluation in rural Ethiopia

We interviewed over 3,800 households across rural Ethiopia for IFPRI’s 2021 endline evaluation of the Strengthening PSNP4 Institutions and Resilience (SPIR) activity in Ethiopia


In early 2021, Laterite was tasked with collecting quantitative data across a sample of 3,996 rural and remote households in Oromia and Amhara for IFPRI’s endline evaluation of the Strengthening PSNP4 Institutions and Resilience (SPIR) Development Food Security Activity (DFSA) activity in Ethiopia. This project followed on from the midline survey we carried out with IFPRI of the same households in late 2019.

SPIR is a three-year program that includes innovative approaches to building women’s assets and strengthening their market participation, promoting male engagement in household tasks, and improving mental health through group therapy. The endline survey completes the impact evaluation that commenced in 2017. It provides the data needed to estimate the full impact of the program on outcomes including household consumption and assets, child diets and nutrition, adult mental health and prevalence of intimate partner violence.

The endline survey was originally planned for June 2020 but was postponed due to restrictions on survey research and travel following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. As these restrictions were lifted, we sought to return to the field to collect endline data before the project ended in mid-2021 and prior to national elections scheduled in June 2021.

In doing so, IFPRI and Laterite prioritized the health and safety of the field team and study participants through the entire data collection activity, from enumerator training through to the end of data collection. It was critical that this data collection activity did not contribute to the spread of COVID-19 within the rural study communities.


In many cases during the pandemic, we have pivoted to phone surveys of respondents to minimize spread of the virus. However in this case, it was necessary to conduct the endline survey in person for several reasons:

  • First, in the midline survey only 33% of households indicated owning a phone, which means that phone interviews would require dropping a significant share of the sample. Those who did report a phone number are also significantly more educated and wealthier than households without phones according to the survey data, thus the phone-owning sample is not fully representative of the study population.
  • Second, the endline survey took nearly two hours to complete and included interviews with multiple household members, making it too long to be suitable for a phone survey.
  • Lastly, components of the interviews required in-person observations and measurements such as child anthropometry. There were also sensitive questions in the survey that are difficult to capture well in a phone interview and could raise safety concerns.

So how did we carry out this large-scale in-person data collection project, in the midst of a pandemic?

We coordinated closely with IFPRI and development partners to establish and follow COVID safety measures for this activity. We drew on our COVID-19 data collection protocols to develop a tailored, detailed strategy for mitigating the risks of COVID transmission for this project. IFPRI added Laterite’s COVID-19 safety strategy to its own COVID protocols and obtained clearance from the Institutional Review Boards (IRBs) at IFPRI and Hawassa University and from the IFPRI Senior Management Team before beginning fieldwork.

Laterite’s safety measures included testing the field team for COVID-19 at the start and midpoint of data collection and using recommended social distancing, mask and sanitation practices. In addition, we established a multi-level monitoring system to track and report on the COVID situation. This included reports from International SOS, monitoring the IFPRI IRB’s country risk dashboard, coordination with the SPIR project implementation partners’ woreda level staff, contacting local health officers, and screening respondents for COVID symptoms prior to beginning interviews. Calls were held weekly between Laterite, IFPRI and World Vision to share updates and discuss any concerns.


Between 9 February and 31 March 2021, Laterite completed surveys with 3,812 households, successfully completing interviews with 95% of the full target sample. Seven full-time Laterite staff and 92 contract team members were involved in the data collection effort.

There was full return on the efforts put into planning and monitoring the COVID situation. No member of the field team experienced COVID symptoms and there were no reports of respondents falling ill following interviews. During a sharp rise in the rate of COVID infection in urban areas of Ethiopia in the second month of data collection, the precautions and procedures implemented by Laterite and IFPRI allowed the survey fieldwork to continue to its completion.

An enumerator interviews a participant for an impact evaluation in Ethiopia
An enumerator interviews a participant for the SPIR endline in Ethiopia (Image: Laterite)


Cover image: Erik Hathaway via Unsplash