Researcher effects in survey-based research: Insights from research in South Sudan

Research output: Journal PublicationArticlepeer-review


Motivation: In policy-relevant and applied research in international development, the evidence-based turn has led to increasing donor demand for evidence that is neutral, objective, and value-free. Rather than this positivist understanding, the article argues for reflexivity and acknowledgement of positionality to help overcome potential researcher effects. Purpose: Drawing on the example of survey research in South Sudan, the article argues that social relations between the researcher, surveyors, and participants shape the research process and hence knowledge creation. It examines why survey research conducted under similar circumstances led to distinctive data sets. Methods and approach: The argument is based on comparing survey data gathered by two groups of locally hired surveyors in South Sudan and subsequent semi-structured interviews with them. Findings: The data show that the researcher's positionality, broadly conceived, influenced data collection. The way the locally hired surveyors perceived the lead researcher and the economically challenging environment of South Sudan—a country severely embroiled in violent conflict—affected the data that were gathered with a social survey, and consequently affected knowledge production. Policy implications: The article contributes to the literature that argues that researcher effects also occur in quantitative research. It shows that in policy-relevant research reflexivity is necessary to strengthen research results. Researchers working in conflict-affected, impoverished environments, and donors requesting evaluation and measurement, should be encouraged to take positionality into account and to ask questions about research practices.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere12629
JournalDevelopment Policy Review
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • South Sudan
  • evaluation
  • interview effects
  • positivism
  • quantitative research
  • reflexivity
  • social surveys

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Development
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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