Piloting the Sample Survey: Process and Lessons

In a previous post, Avni had detailed the sample survey on waste Transparent Chennai conducted in Ward 173. We piloted the survey to eliminate any redundancies and ensure integrity of the survey. After the mapping exercise we divided the ward into blocks of 250-300 households. The survey was conducted in fifteen blocks while the pilot was conducted in one of the fifteen blocks across 50 households and 4 shops that were shortlisted through systematised random sampling. The chosen block covered part of a low-income locality, Govindasamy Nagar, and part of a high income one, Krishnapuri.

Researchers and volunteers approached the households over two days to request participation in the pilot. The participation of the residents involved segregation of garbage generated in their household into organic, inorganic and sanitary waste before handing it to the team engaged to collect them. The sampling method allowed for a 20 percent rate of refusal, which meant that we could afford no more than one-fifth of the houses we approached refuse to participate in the pilot. Prior interaction in the ward showed us that residents in low-income areas were more willing to cooperate in such efforts. As a result, there was a degree of anxiety about the response we would receive from the residents of Krishnapuri.

With this in mind, the team decided to engage residents and discuss the pilot with them as a precursor to the recruitment process. We met with office bearers of the Resident Welfare Association in Krishnapuri and informed them about the nature and purpose of the pilot. They were very receptive and promised to solicit the cooperation of residents.

In Govindasamy Nagar, the outreach team had previously met with Maheshwari as part of workshops held in the ward. Maheshwari is a popular member of the community, actively involved in various causes and known to speak for the welfare of the residents. She played a vital role in spreading the word about the impending survey and in the recruitment process. A challenge faced in this regard was to explain the process of random sampling to volunteers from the community. The general tendency of the volunteers to veer from the process to select households they felt would adhere to segregation or were appropriate candidates or their friends, had to be kept in check.

The process we followed for recruitment was simple. Once we reached a selected household, we briefed them on the work done so far and the purpose of the pilot. We obtained their consent for participation and provided documents that would help them better understand the process. We also provided them with four bins – two for inorganic waste, one for organic waste and one for sanitary waste and the requisite number of garbage bags. Since segregation was paramount to obtain the necessary data, its importance was stressed repeatedly. Lastly, we administered a short survey to gather details about the number of residents in each household, number of rooms, current method of waste disposal and questions to determine their socio-economic category. The dustbins were handed out two days prior to the first day of collection and participants were asked to ensure that only one day’s waste was deposited by the residents during the time of collection on each of the three days.

In the recruitment stage, our fears proved to be well-founded. We faced more resistance in high-income areas than in the low-income one. We were close to crossing our upper limit of allowable rejections in Krishnapuri, resulting in some tense moments. We had one household that returned the bins and refused to participate on the first day of collection, and one that only gave us garden waste for three days. But most of the others were very cooperative and appreciative of our efforts. In Govindasamy Nagar, the situation was polar opposite of that in Krishnapuri: there was interest in the survey from all quarters, and residents wanted to understand the method of selection of households and why they were not part of the survey. We collected the contact details of those who were interested but were not part of the survey, in order to approach them during further engagements in the ward.

We began the collection stage of the pilot on October 27th. For three days we collected waste from the doorsteps of the residents between 7 A.M. and 9 A.M. with the assistance of conservancy workers. The bags were labelled with a code assigned to each household and with the category of waste, and then transported to the area designated by the Corporation of Chennai for analysis. We weighed each bag individually and recorded the results. The sanitary and organic waste was disposed into the Corporation dustbins and the inorganic waste was further segregated. With the help of two informal waste workers, the recyclable materials were extricated from the inorganic waste, and the weight of recyclables and the residuals from each household was recorded. The residuals were deposited in Corporation dustbins while the recyclables were given to the waste workers.

In Govindasamy Nagar, the issues encountered during the survey included locating households, too little space for the dustbins provided and more than one household making use of the bins provided contrary to instructions. A sample household and sample shop were found to be locked through the period of the survey, so no waste was obtained from them. In Krishnapuri, the households that agreed to participate, segregated waste more effectively.

Compliance with segregation was found to increase with each day of the survey as instructions for segregation were reiterated to each household. Sanitary waste was obtained only from a few households over the course of the survey. Possible reasons could be the stigma attached to the nature of waste that included condoms and sanitary napkins. Feedback from the residents and volunteers prompted the redesigning of survey instruments to be more visually appealing. The number of dustbins provided to the slums was reduced to three owing to the lack of space in the households. The pilot gave us an idea of the scale of the logistics that would be required to carry out the larger sample survey. The lessons from the pilot certainly aided in better planning and efficient organising of the sample survey.

The Corporation of Chennai, especially the officials and staff at the ward office, were very supportive throughout the process, providing us with space for conducting the analysis, electric connections for the weighing machines, and space for storing the rented weighing machines overnight. Their assistance continued during the final nine day survey and was invaluable to its successful completion.

Written by Aruna Natarajan, researcher, Transparent Chennai.