Most surveys in developing countries focus on measuring outcomes - mortality rates or whether a child graduates from school. These measures are valuable for diagnosing social problems and formulating policy priorities. They are less useful at telling governments how well they are performing their own role in delivering public services, since everything from private sector alternatives to weather can influence these outcome indicators. Consequently, few public servants, fewer politicians and even fewer citizens have a good understanding of how annual budgets translate into the delivery of public services.
For instance, the Governor of Taraba State in Nigeria, responded to a recent survey that put poverty levels in his state at over 70% by arguing that “I don’t want to totally accept that there is poverty in Taraba as far as this regime is concerned. The government has put in place a lot of programmes that will alleviate poverty in the state."
To really understand how government policies reach the ground, we need regular surveys of service delivery performance and 'outputs'. The Office of the Senior Special Assistant to the President on MDGs in Nigeria, support by the Earth Institute of Columbia University, therefore undertook a pioneering survey of over 30,000 schools, health clinics and water supply points in Nigeria. These facilities provided vital services to over 20 million people but until the survey was done, information on how well they were performing was patchy and based on sweeping generalizations.
The challenge of conducting such a large and complex survey led to the use of a number of innovations which have much broader application. I group these innovations under the heading of 'Smart Surveys' and aim to document some of them on this site so they can inform similar work happening in other developing countries.
In Ghana, the Centre for Democratic Development is also pioneering the use of Smart Surveys to gather information on their impressions of public services and their views on the accountability of politicians.