Locating households in fieldwork

This article is accompanied by a sample form, dataset definition and sample data in this folder.

When conducting face-to-face interviews, one of the first challenges to overcome is finding effective strategies to physically locate the interviewee, i.e., the household. Depending on several factors, including your sample size, the area covered by the project and existing data, this might not be as easy as it seems. Not only do you need the right data (e.g. address, household head name, gps), but also the right tools and logistics in place.

In this article, we will discuss what you can do to ease the task of locating households, or any other physical location where data collection should take place (schools, clinics, businesses, farms, etc). We will first list useful data points to identify respondents’ locations and afterwards we will discuss a practical example on how to locate them.

  1. Deploy the workflow now!
  2. Making the best of the data you have
  3. How to locate households
  4. Workflow components
  5. Features that enable this workflow
  6. Understanding the workflow

Deploy the workflow now!

Click below to view this workflow in the Hub and install it on your server.

Install Workflow

Advanced users can find the sample workflow files in this folder. For help with manual deployment, check out our support article Deploying form definitions and server datasets.

Making the best of the data you have

In the sample, we present a more ideal scenario where we have each of the data points described in the table below. You may have fewer of these data points, and perhaps some come from an old data source, leaving you doubtful of their reliability. You'll have to adjust accordingly based on your resources and time.

Regardless of your project stage, consider collecting or updating the following data:

Data Description

Household Address

Includes the street address, door number, and floor. Less formal addresses may include a plot number. Additionally, it might help to add reference point(s), for example, “nearby the main church of the village”.


Thanks to GPS navigation, enumerators can be guided to interview locations, if you have GPS coordinates. Collecting new coordinates on site for comparison to coordinates on file can help with quality control. 

Household Head name

Helps enumerators confirm whether they are in the right household, or to approach neighbors or community members for help. Consider collecting the household head's alias (or nickname) as well, as they may not be known by their birth name.

Phone Number(s)

The ability to call the respondent when they are not home, or to ask for directions, is very useful. We recommend collecting and updating at least primary and secondary contact information. With longitudinal studies, collecting the phone numbers of relatives and neighbors can also be a good idea.

Photo of the respondent

Similar to the household head name, this helps identify the respondent, which is useful for enumerator’s confirmation and to approach others.

Photo of the house

A photo of the house has a similar use as the photo of the respondent, helping enumerators to find the right house.

All of this data is personally identifying information and could be regarded as sensitive. You should take great care with securing devices used for data collection, and while handling such data. For more guidance on this, see this guide.

How to locate households

Based on your project context and the equipment available, there are several strategies you can incorporate to minimize time spent searching for households. Some are organizational aspects of the project, others are technology-driven. We have designed a workflow as an example of how you can incorporate all kinds of strategies when locating households.

Apart from the workflow, there is one relevant aspect on locating households to take into account before the data collection starts. Regardless of the chosen tools, there is nothing more effective than recruiting enumerators who are familiar with the areas to be surveyed (ideally particular enumeration areas). Someone that knows the location and the community is often a more valuable addition to your team than someone who has already trained on your data collection software. Therefore, we recommend that you always keep two important aspects in mind when recruiting and assigning households to enumerators:
      1. Enumerators’ residence.
      2. Enumerators’ previous experience in traveling and visiting survey locations. Professional enumerators are often widely traveled and knowledgeable about their countries.

Workflow components

These are the files that you will need to deploy on your server to test this workflow:

  Component File name
image_1.png Form definition
- Sample form - Locating Households
image_2.png Field plug-ins - phone-call.fieldplugin.zip
image_3.png Other attachments - images.zip
image_4.png Server dataset definition - household_data_definition.xml
image_5.png Server dataset records - Household data

The sample forms, dataset definition and sample data are saved in this folder whilst the phone-call field plug-in can be downloaded from here. Follow these instructions to deploy them on your server console.

Features that enable this workflow

This use case uses the following features of SurveyCTO:

Feature Resources


  1. Using expressions in your forms: a reference for all operators and functions

Pre-loading using pulldata()

  1. Pre-loading data into a form
  2. Webinar

Server dataset publishing

  1. Publishing form data into server datasets
  2. Webinar

Field plug-ins

  1. Using field plug-ins
  2. Field plug-in catalog

The sample forms, dataset definition, and sample data are saved in this folder whilst the phone-call field plug-in can be downloaded from here. Follow these instructions to deploy them on your server console.

Understanding the workflow

The workflow illustrates this order of events to find the household:

1.png Call ahead to the respondent. Here, you can confirm whether anyone is at home, and double-check the details to locate the household (e.g. address).
2.png Navigate to the household. Use offline navigation apps, printed maps, and/or just the household address to find the way to the household.
3.png Seek additional help. If the household can’t be found, or if no one is at home, you might need additional, external support:
  1. Call to the respondent, using the same approach as in step 1.
  2. Consult neighbors.
4.png Update household data. If any detail happens to be outdated or wrong, make sure you update it.

1. Call ahead to the respondent

This step might not be important for all projects, depending on enumerators’ starting point and how households are spread out across the project area. Still, it can be very helpful for others.

As discussed in the table above, registering and keeping multiple phone numbers up to date is key so that you can reach out to the respondent whenever it’s required. This is one of those situations. In the sample form, take a look at the repeat group “hh_calls”:

  1. The repeat group will loop over all phone contacts registered for that specific household ID, which are pre-loaded from a server dataset.
  2. Using the phone-call field plug-in, you will be able to call each phone contact via the form.

2. Navigate to the household

There are several tools available to help your enumerators to move in the right direction and find the households. Some rely on technology and some don’t. Our sample form illustrates two complementary strategies:

  1. Displaying all relevant household information on the screen to support the enumerator with any detail that might help. This includes text data, such as the household address and the household head name, but also existing images of the respondent/house (see relevant household data in this section). Any images collected in previous stages can be displayed in the form as pre-loaded data. If you have a list of Household IDs with the associated image file name, then you can preload the image filename based on the Household ID, and refer to that field under the media:image property of any field.
    Additionally, if you have a large number of images, you can combine all of them in a single zipped folder and attach the folder as a single attachment of the form.
  2. Integrating SurveyCTO Collect with Google Maps. By pre-loading existing GPS data, you can directly open Google Maps and build a route between where you are and your destination (the household).


Alternatively, here are different methods available for you to use:

  • Using a geopoint field type with “placement-map” appearance: If you’re in the area, or if you know the area well enough, you might not need to build a route, you would simply like to see the GPS point on the map. If this is the case, you would be able to do this using our offline map tile support.
  • Other offline mobile maps: There are other mobile applications for offline maps than Google Maps that are able to build a route and guide your enumerators, even without an internet connection. SurveyCTO has tools to help you integrate our platform with any of those apps, particularly using field plug-ins. If you have technical knowledge, take a look at our guide to creating field plug-ins and our webinar on the subject.
  • Printed Maps: Generating and printing maps of clusters and enumeration areas, identifying the households to interview is very helpful. Something useful to make these maps more readable are the reference points mentioned under Household address. The more simple, clear, and understandable the map can be, the better. You could print a single map per team, whenever a team of enumerators is led by a supervisor that will guide their enumerators accordingly. Of course, this depends on your context.

3. Seek additional help

The tools in the step above might not be enough to find the household. Or perhaps you found the household, but no one was home. If this is the case, you might need additional support:

  1. Using the same method as in step 1., try to contact the respondent.
  2. Otherwise, reach out to neighbors or others that can offer assistance. Throughout your project, there are several important people to consider other than the respondent or household members.
  3. Group village heads, village chiefs, and neighbors are valuable assets to keep you on track (but they can also be gatekeepers). Depending on your project, try to identify those that can help you along the way and make sure you build these relationships. It might even make sense to record the details of people who offered advice (if they were willing).

Whenever your enumerators speak to people who can help you to find respondents, make sure that your form is designed to facilitate capturing the advice, names, and contact details of those helpers, in case you need to contact them again. The accompanying sample provides a basic example of how to approach this.

4. Update household data

Considering that all the steps above are only possible because we have a group of data points, it is very important to make sure that the data is correct and up to date. In the sample form, we ask whether any data point needs to be updated and, if so, we replace old data with new using the set of calculate fields ending in “_updated”. These fields are published to the server dataset which is part of this workflow to ensure that only new data is preloaded in future visits.

Do you have thoughts on this guide? We'd love to hear them! Feel free to fill out this feedback form.


Article is closed for comments.