In Jinhua, Zhejiang province last week, 14 student enumerators pretested our draft baseline survey questionnaire with rice farmers. When the college students returned from the field, they spoke about farmers’ difficulty understanding the term “wild flowers” in the questionnaire.
Growing wild flowers is an ecological engineering method aimed to restore and enhance important ecosystem services to provide adequate crop health.
The term “wild flowers” was used in a series of attitude/belief statements in our draft questionnaire. Here are some examples:
1. Increasing wild flowers on the bunds is a waste of time.
2. Increasing wild flowers on bunds is easy to do.
3. It is difficult to increase wild flowers on bunds because nearby paddy fields use herbicide.
4. We cannot increase the wild flowers on bunds because we burn our rice straw.
5. Increasing wild flowers on bunds is additional burden to farmers.
6. It is difficult to increase wild flowers on bunds because farmers will step on them.
7. Our bunds are narrow so there is no place for wild flowers.
8. I am willing to try increasing wild flowers in the bunds to learn more about what they can do
Students reported that farmers thought that wild flowers are useless and they should not waste time growing them and answering questions that had to do with these flowers. This pretest feedback pointed to a lack of understanding between scientists and farmers on what the words meant. As used in the questionnaire, wild flowers are plants which are not cultivated but produce nectar-rich flowers to attract natural enemies. Many are growing wildly around rice paddies, hills and roadsides. On the other hand, farmers thought that wild flowers are utterly useless plants. After a long discussion on what term will best capture uncultivated flowers, it was agreed that the term, “beneficial flowers” be used instead.
What is questionnaire pretesting
The pretest is a try-out of the questionnaire to see how it works and whether changes are necessary before the start of the actual survey. About 15 to 20 respondents, whose characteristics are reasonably similar to the survey population, will be adequate for a pretest. The questionnaire is then revised and finalized on the basis of pretest results. Pretesting guidelines will facilitate the conduct of a pretest.
Why pretest a survey questionnaire
The pretest provides a means of catching and solving unforeseen problems in the use of the questionnaire, such as the phrasing and sequencing of questions. Linguistic and cultural differences also complicate the task of questionnaire development, making pretesting all the more indispensable. The pretest enables one to:
1) improve the wording of the questionnaire;
2) correct and improve translation of technical terms;
3) check the accuracy and adequacy of the questionnaire’s instructions such as “skip” and “go to”;
4) eliminate unnecessary questions and add necessary ones; and
5) estimate the time needed to conduct the interview.
Years ago, we conducted a thorough questionnaire pretest for a survey of rice farmers’ seed health practices in Iloilo, Philippines. That pretest yielded constructive suggestions which served as the basis for improving the questionnaire. Read excerpts of the pretest results here …