Asking the right questions: AidData to launch third global survey of developing- country leaders

In 2020, we plan to field a new wave of our Listening to Leaders Survey to over 55,000 decision-makers in 140 countries.

March 6, 2019
Mengfan Cheng, Sarina Patterson
Participants in The World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leaders program in Kakuma, Kenya in 2018. Photo by the World Economic Forum via Flickr, licensed under (CC BY 2.0).

Participants in The World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leaders program in Kakuma, Kenya in 2018. Photo by the World Economic Forum via Flickr, licensed under (CC BY 2.0).

Last year, AidData published the Listening to Leaders 2018 report, examining the results of our second-ever global survey of leaders’ perspectives on development issues and donors. Findings from the report featured in outlets including NPR, The South China Morning Post, The Washington Post, and Mother Jones, and sparked conversation among development partners like Canada, UNESCO, UNICEF, and the UNDP.

Drawing on lessons learned from the first two surveys in 2014 and 2017, we aim to field a third, updated wave of the Listening to Leaders Survey in early 2020—bringing new evidence to bear on how leaders in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) view a rapidly changing development landscape. We are presently in discussions with prospective partners to help shape the specific themes of the third wave of the survey. We want to ensure that the survey results usefully inform governments and organizations seeking to be more effective and responsive to what LMICs are trying to achieve. In this post, we give you a sneak preview of what we would like to achieve with wave three of the survey.

Because most nationally-representative surveys in developing countries are fielded to the general public, there is a dearth of information about a key population of interest: leaders in LMICs. To provide needed insights into this important demographic, AidData uses a methodically-constructed sampling frame to identify relevant government officials, civil society leaders, and private sector representatives for inclusion in the survey. The Listening to Leaders Survey is one of only a few to canvass these leaders on a global scale.

For the next wave, AidData will expand the sampling frame from 126 to 140 low- and middle-income countries worldwide. To facilitate comparability over time, we plan to retain a set of core questions from previous surveys, creating a rich evidence base of how leaders’ opinions on development priorities, progress, and donor performance have shifted over more than six years. We’ll continue to ask leaders about their most pressing development issues; their most helpful and influential development partners; and where they source information to use in decisions. And we’ll add new questions to probe more deeply on topics of interest to AidData and our core partners. For example, this might include understanding the rise of emerging donors or the role of infomediaries in shaping domestic policy processes, as well as pinpointing opportunities for development partners to help LMIC leaders gain traction in areas that are ripe for reform.

Leaders’ development priorities, preferred solutions, and opportunities for progress

​What are the highest-priority problems that leaders in low- and middle-income countries seek to solve—and what do leaders want to do to advance these issues? In the 2017 Listening to Leaders Survey, we asked leaders about their top development priorities, with answer categories that corresponded to the Sustainable Development Goals. In 2020, we’ll go beyond these broad goals to ascertain what specifically leaders hope to achieve in these areas (and how). We’ll ask leaders about what they see as the most promising avenues to solve their most pressing  problems; who they most want to work with in these areas and what support they need to realize progress.

Tuned-in or tone-deaf? See where leaders and citizens agreed (and diverged) on development priorities in the Listening to Leaders 2018 report

Leaders’ preferred development partners

How do leaders in low- and middle-income countries select who they work with and listen to? What makes development partners more attractive and effective in influencing, designing, or implementing policy change? The module on partner performance evaluation has traditionally attracted substantial attention from readers and partners. Listening to Leaders 2018 reported on the rise of non-Western donors as influential players in the field, finding that China and India leapfrogged other donors in influence. To shed more light on emerging donors, we plan to expand this thematic area in 2020 with questions that explore the role of traditional aid versus South-South cooperation. In addition, we aim to make the survey results more actionable for development partners by digging into additional attributes of perceived performance and identifying opportunities for donors to make course corrections to strengthen their relationships with leaders in LMICs.

See how donors performed on our “customer satisfaction survey” of foreign aid in the Listening to Leaders 2018 report

Influencing with evidence

How do leaders in low- and middle-income countries source information, and under what circumstances is this evidence influential in their decisions? In previous waves of the Listening to Leaders Survey, this thematic area focused on the types of development data leaders most wanted and used, and at which stage in the decision-making process leaders found this evidence most helpful. In 2020, we’ll probe deeper into the landscape of data uptake by asking questions that assess the credibility of infomediaries and identify the pathways (or the most effective entry points) for information to influence leaders.

How do leaders source data and use it to accelerate development? See findings from the Decoding Data Use report

Moving toward 2020

Leaders and policymakers in LMICs have substantial influence over a multitude of decisions that shape the trajectory of their country’s development. The 2020 Listening to Leaders Survey presents a unique opportunity to collect feedback and insights from these important in-country leaders that are traditionally difficult to access. In the coming months, we’ll work to update the survey sampling frame, design the questionnaire, and get ready to field the survey in early 2020. Once the data is collected and analyzed, we look forward to reporting back on what these leaders have to say about what they’re trying to achieve, as well as who they want to work with, how, and why.

Mengfan Cheng served as a Program Manager for Listening to Leaders at AidData.

Sarina Patterson is AidData's Communications Manager.