Safety and Motivation

Key Terms

Neighbourhoods refers to large areas based on the City of Toronto’s formal division of areas (E.g., Dorset Park and Mount Olive).

Routes are smaller areas within neighborhoods that we used for scheduling surveying sessions. Routes were developed based on number of houses to visit and the total area.

Letter and flyer are physically printed materials given to residents as a reminder to complete the survey.

Protocol are the procedures and processes for surveying the target population.

Residents refer to individuals who surveyors asked to complete the survey. In this handbook, we use residents unless otherwise specified.

Participants are individuals who agreed to complete the survey.

Replenish is a meeting between the survey coordinator and surveyors to exchange necessary materials and formulate solutions to any survey-related challenges.

Replenish Protocol is an outline developed for each replenish that outlines which surveyor is responsible for which route and what materials are needed from the survey coordinator.

How did we ensure surveyor safety?

Safety is the most important concern when conducting surveys in neighbourhoods. Although there may be minimal concerns surveying the neighbourhoods in your sample, it is important to develop a safety protocol that protects the surveyors in the case of an incident. Your safety protocol might include provisions for protecting surveyors’ physical safety as well as privacy and confidentiality.

Here is a list of strategies we found helpful for maintaining surveyors’ safety
  • Develop a protocol for dealing with physical safety issues. The following elements are important to share with surveyors
  • Remove yourself from the situation
  • Ensure that you and your partner are safe
  • If your life is under threat, call 911
  • If you believe to be safe, call the survey coordinator and talk through the situation
  • Make a note about the incident to keep a record
  • Discuss with the survey coordinator on how to avoid the situation or area.
  • Meet with members of communities of interests and residents to identify “hotspots” in the sampled neighbourhoods.
  • Communicate hotspots with surveyors prior to sending them into the field.
  • Describe the potential safety concerns that the surveyors may experience in the field. At the same time, communicate the protocol for dealing with safety concerns. Provide a space for surveyors to react to this discussion and acknowledge their concerns and answer their questions.
  • Survey in pairs.
  • Conclude a surveying session immediately before sunset, especially in areas identified as being hotspots. Sunset time will change throughout the year.
  • Do not carry more than $200 at any given point in time. For surveying where surveyors stand in one place, do not carry cash at all and instead provide online gift cards.
  • Consider staggering visits to the same neighbourhood. For example, have two surveyors visit the neighbourhood on day 1 and day 3 but not day 2.
Case Study: Corresponding Shootings in Surveying Area

There were two shootings in the span of a week in a specific neighbourhood. The first shooting happened at the same time one pair of surveyors were in the field. The team was within walking distance from where the shootings occurred. The survey coordinator did not realise this until the following morning and after speaking to the surveyors.

Although the surveyors did not notice the shooting, the survey coordinator provided the opportunity for surveyors to voice their concerns to alleviate any hesitations they may have. At the same time, the survey coordinator halted surveying in and near the neighbourhood where the shootings happened. For residents, we did not want neighbours to mistake survey participation with aiding law enforcement, which could stigmatise survey participants in their communities. This was especially the case since we were visiting a select number of random houses; members of households we do not intend to visit may view or activities as suspicious.

The week after this incident, there was another shooting in the same area, although surveyors were not in the field at the time. This consecutive incident raised alarm among surveyors and prompted a surveyor to leave the team citing safety concerns. The two consecutive shootings raised both safety and human resource issues. To address this, we set up a time for an open dialogue with surveyors. During the meeting, we expressed our acknowledgement of the two shootings, the safety precautions we have developed to address these concerns, and our appreciation of their work to finish the survey. The primary reason for having this meeting was to anticipate increasing reluctance of surveyors to continue surveying. We wanted to complete the survey within our timelines, but at the same time ensure that the surveyors felt comfortable and safe to continue.


Checklist for Organisations
  • Acknowledge that surveyor safety is the most important concern when conducting surveys in communities.
  • Develop a safety protocol that protects the physical safety as well as privacy and confidentiality of surveyors: determine neighbourhoods in your sample with history of violence and communicating this to surveyors, stagger visits to neighbourhoods, send surveyors in pairs, communicate all safety concerns openly with surveyors, conclude surveying before sunset, and reduce the cash that surveyors hold.

How did we maintain surveyor motivation?

Surveyors spend several hours a week in the field, visiting a number of houses daily, and experiencing multiple negative responses from residents; all of which may affect their motivation and their ability to administer surveys effectively. Having high motivation from surveyors was a crucial component of project success not just for response rate but also for making the experience enjoyable and meaningful for surveyors. This section outlines the various strategies we employed to motivate surveyors throughout the data collection period.

A. Entering the Field
  • Initial Training: We ensured that surveyors became passionate about the project and developed rapport with each other through active learning activities. We describe our strategies in more detail in the training section.
  • Pairs: All surveyors worked in pairs in the field. Each pair knocked on doors together and they alternated. Since surveyors were always in pairs, they could encourage and motivate one another, especially after a negative interaction with a resident.
  • Replenish: Each week, there was a replenish meeting where surveyors met the survey coordinator to obtain necessary materials. This meeting was an opportunity to check-in with each surveyor and the coordinator, answer any questions or concerns, and for the coordinator to express gratitude and appreciation of their motivation and commitment. This strategy also gave surveyors the impression that the coordinator was always present
B. In the Field
  • WhatsApp Group: We created an instant messaging group on WhatsApp that surveyors used in the field. By staying connected to surveyors before, during, and after shifts, it gave the impression that the coordinator and other surveyors were constantly present.
  • Virtual Check-Ins: At the end of each shift, each surveying team messaged the WhatsApp group with the number of doors they knocked, surveys they completed, and questions or challenges they faced. Sharing this information on the collective WhatsApp Group created a competitive environment that increased response rate. Questions and challenges allowed surveyors to exchange best practices and strategies.
C. Exiting the Field
  • Regular Meetings: Once or twice weekly, the manager met with the surveyors virtually to update them about the response rate, preliminary findings and provide the opportunity to explore strategies to increase response rates. These meetings were particularly helpful for navigating through challenges with our protocols, for example, getting senior residents to participate. We used this strategy at the beginning of each survey phase to adapt our protocols to the neighborhoods and surveyors. In addition, once every few weeks, the coordinated hosted dinners with surveyors.
  • Informal Focus Groups: Once every month, we invited surveyors to talk about their experiences in the field. We wanted to capture their ethnographic experiences surveying low-income communities and interacting with diverse residents. This strategy showed that the survey coordinator valued the team’s suggestions by changing the protocols immediately based on their feedback.
  • End of Data Collection Dinner: We celebrated the experiences and successes made at the end of each data collection phases. We invited surveyors to interact with the research team in an informal context. 
  • Involvement in Other Components of the Project: Some surveyors expressed interest in contributing to other aspects of the Community Voices project. We provided several opportunities for surveyors to be involved in conducting qualitative interviews, transcribing interviews, supporting analysis of survey findings, and writing different sections of this handbook. By having surveyors contribute to other parts of the project, we highlighted how much we valued our surveyors.

Checklist for Organisations
  • Acknowledge that surveyor motivation is essential for the success of the survey.
  • Develop a number of strategies to increase motivation through the data collection period: before entering the field (initial training, weekly meetings, and having surveyors work in pairs), in the field (virtual conversations), exiting the field (regular updates on survey progress, informal focus groups, dinners).
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