Kakuma refugee settlement
Case study

Reaching out to refugee households during the pandemic

Remote data collection to give a voice to vulnerable populations


The Maastricht Graduate School of Government (MGSoG) and the United Nations University – Maastricht Economic and Social Research Institute on Innovation and Technology (UNU-MERIT) are engaged in a long-term partnership with the World Food Program in Kenya to provide monitoring for the WFP Country Strategic Plan 2018-2023.

As part of the monitoring activities, UNU-MERIT and MGSoG conduct an annual survey of households in the Dadaab, Kakuma and Kalobeyei refugee settlements. The survey provides insights into the food security, nutrition, livelihoods, and well-being of refugee households.

Due to the outbreak of COVID-19, the Government of Kenya put in place a number of travel restrictions and social distancing measures designed to contain the risk of contagion and protect vulnerable populations. These restrictions meant that conducting a face-to-face data collection in 2020 would not be possible.

UNU-MERIT and MGSoG remained, however, committed to ensure that the voices of the refugee households were heard and partnered with Laterite to explore the option of a telephone-based data collection.


Laterite put in place a plan to conduct a phone survey while respecting all the government public health guidelines.

We recruited a team of enumerators fluent in Swahili and Somali, as well as other languages spoken at the refugee settlements such as Arabic, Nuer and Dinka. The enumerators met with the Laterite team at our Nairobi office for a two-day workshop covering training on day one, and a second day to pilot and test the survey questionnaire.

The team respected all public health recommendations, such as social distancing and use of face masks, throughout the training days. The enumerators and supervising team completed the data collection while working from home and no additional face to face meetings were required.


The data collection was completed over a three-week period in October and November 2020. Overall, the team reached about 1,800 refugee household in the target settlements.

Phone surveys are a powerful tool, but reaching respondents in remote areas brings issues of connectivity. These can range from switched off phones, to unanswered calls or calls that were cut due to a drop in connection. Some of these issues are difficult to avoid (for example the ones arising from poor infrastructure). Others were mitigated during the data collection itself.

Two of the most relevant mitigation strategies were:

  • Mobilization: having the WFP team at the settlements raising awareness of the importance of this survey improved response rates.
  • Cultural context: planning the calls to consider the local customs, as for example respondents will not answer during Friday prayers in Dadaab as this is a predominantly Muslim settlement.


Image: Kakuma refugee settlement in Kenya. Credit: matija.kovac (via Wikimedia Commons)