Geospatial fieldwork maps critical to improve market research in Africa

Various household surveys are undertaken by government departments and marketing departments in companies at a national and provincial level in South Africa. This is to help researchers and decision-makers measure and understand population dynamics and trends. If properly designed and implemented, these surveys can provide unique and important information.  The use of census-type fieldwork enumeration area maps to implement these surveys is essential.

Why is fieldwork mapping important?

To implement these surveys effectively, the use of fieldwork geographical maps is vital. Maps of the drawn sample and individual sampled areas enables the survey teams to plan the field work, assign teams to specific areas as well as access the specific local areas that have been identified. Detailed localised maps also enable a field team to navigate within the specific area and identify households/dwellings for interviews. Additionally, the maps enable the project manager and supervisors with a way to monitor their teams on the ground. Having larger scaled regional/provincial maps showing the distribution and locations of the drawn sample also becomes a valuable tool to organise the teams, do logistical planning and budgeting in terms of materials needed and travel arrangements.

Overview map of sampled areas in South Region, Botswana

Advantages / disadvantages of hardcopy versus digital maps

Fieldwork maps can come in either digital or paper versions. Both have their pros and cons.

Digital versions of fieldwork maps can be accessed and downloaded onto a tablet, laptop or even a smartphone by different persons and therefore easily and quickly distributed between supervisors and team members. For team supervisors this is also a plus as they can store and access multiple maps on one electronic device instead of keeping a stack of paper with them. However, the main drawback of using digital maps is that it does require a digital device to access them, as well as an internet connection that may not always available in remote rural locations. Electronic devices are also dependent on using battery power. This can be very limiting having to continually be reliant on being close to a charging point be it a mains plug or a car with a car charging port. Add to that the time it takes to recharge the device.

Paper maps can be used anywhere without the need for an internet connection or being dependent on a electronic device limited to the amount of battery power. This is very important especially when visiting very remote areas with poor or no internet signal. Using a combination of paper maps and a GPS device one can navigate the local area and locate the households identified for interviewing or data gathering. A disadvantage of paper maps is that they can be misplaced, which means the user of the map will have to obtain a new paper copy from the project team and this could take a long time to arrange.

Importance of adding visiting points and navigation information

Another key part of field work maps are the actual locations of interview points in each of the selected enumeration areas that will be visited by the interview teams. During the sample design process of a survey, a decision is made about how many interviews are needed per enumeration area to fulfil the project objectives (total number of households that need to be interviewed). Using GIS software, a set number of dwelling points are drawn per enumeration area. This selection is saved away as a new geospatial layer and is then used in the map production process.

EA map showing Interview points

The interview teams will therefore have detailed enumeration area maps that shows the area they will be visiting, as well as the point locations of where in that specific enumeration area the interviews with households have to be done. These interview points on the maps will usually also have Lat/Lon coordinates shown as text labels next to each point. The interview teams will know exactly where to go once they reach the enumeration area, and they are then able to use the Lat/Lon coordinates shown on the maps to navigate to the identified dwellings. This minimizes the risk of interviewers not being able to find the dwellings where interviews need to be done, and also ensures that the interviewers do not end up interviewing households outside of the designated enumeration area boundaries.

In conclusion, from the fieldwork planning stages through to the actual in-field navigation, and for monitoring fieldwork progress, the use of geographically accurate fieldwork maps in household surveys are essential.

Johann Fenske is a GIS Specialist that has over twelve years experience in preparing and automating the production of fieldwork maps for household surveys.  His specializations include development of geospatial datasets, geospatial analysis and map production. 

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