In this blog, Nicholas Van Praag of CDAC Network Affiliate Member, Ground Truth Solutions, discusses their research into perceptions of field staff working on the Ebola Response, and what this tells us about the challenges faced.
Field staff on the frontlines of the Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone offer a nuanced picture of how the response is going and where the challenges lie. Their insight becomes more powerful when compared and contrasted with the views of the general public and objective measures of progress in stemming the spread of the pandemic. In all this, communication is key.
The first round of data collected last week from field staff of PLAN International and Save the Children suggests they are sanguine about the likelihood that people will adhere to quarantine restrictions – in part because people in isolation lack food and water - and about the speed with which burial and surveillance teams are responding.
The workers’ perspective is colored by concerns they have about their own safety in the communities they serve. They also voice disquiet about the effect of stigma on peoples’ willingness to seek medical treatment and what they see as low levels of trust in the authorities dealing with the crisis. In terms of overall progress in tackling the disease, they are sitting firmly on the fence. See chart for details.
With the emergency response in Sierra Leone getting into its stride, Ground Truth will be tracking perceptions on these issues every couple of weeks. As the number of agencies volunteering their staff to participate in the survey goes up, the database will broaden. As it does so, the feedback will become more useful both in gauging the effectiveness of the response and indicating what may need to change.
The Ground Truth program provides this real-time feedback based on micro-surveys around salient questions. Originally a component of a package of activities put together under the CDAC Network umbrella, it is now part of PLAN's Ebola transmission control project with funding from DFID.
In addition to surveying frontline workers about their take on what's up, Ground Truth is also conducting a weekly SMS survey of a representative sample of the general public across Sierra Leone's 12 districts. The first report comes out next week.
Distilled into a simple visual report, both data sets will go to managers at the National Ebola Response Center and agencies involved in the programme. The goal is to put the weekly package of findings in the hands of all organizations interested in tracking quantified indicators of perceptions about the effectiveness of the response. The data will also be available to the public and can be accessed through this link.
There are early indications of enthusiasm from operational teams in Sierra Leone as they digest the first data sets. One challenge is to sustain this buy-in and promote follow-through by linking the perceptual data to epidemiological and other metrics guiding the response.
Equally important is making sure the general public is prepared to go on providing its views. Offering feedback-providers airtime on their cell phones is one thing, but the greater incentive is to know you've been heard and that your views have been taken into account. Communication with communities is central to providing an echo chamber for the feedback and an instrument for holding implementing agencies to account for its use.