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Giving Poor Consumers Greater Voice in India: An experience sharing of the quantitative survey conducted in Royapuram, Chennai

CAG, in association with Consumers International (CI), is presently working on a project, “Giving Poor Consumers Greater Voice in India”. The main objective of the project is to bring about behavioral change in a low-income community (Model Lane community, Royapuram), so that consumers become aware of and assert their rights and are equipped with appropriate information which will help them access affordable, safe, and sustainable products in order to ensure healthy homes for their children. The project aims to achieve this through surveys – qualitative and quantitative, pantry audits, testing, awareness programs, and IEC materials such as puppet shows, street plays, tin boards, calendars, quiz competitions, board games, guest lectures, etc., thus continuously engaging with men, women, children, schools, and key influencers in the community. The effectiveness of the project will be tracked using a monitoring and evaluation process. CAG has partnered with Arunodhaya Center For Street And Working Children for this project.

Having led the team in conducting the quantitative survey in the community, I would like to share my experience here. The survey questionnaire was comprehensive and comprised of three parts: 1.consumer profiling; 2) awareness of consumer rights; and 3) awareness about the quality of drinking water, indoor air pollution, and renewable energy solutions at the household level and impact of the above on children. The team used Pen and Paper Methodology to conduct the survey with the target group that included men and women in the age group of 18-50 years. In all, 480 households were chosen. The table below gives details of number respondents chosen for the survey:

State Location Water Indoor air Energy Total
  Women Men Women Men Women Men Women Men Total
Tamil Nadu Model Lane 135 30 135 30 50 100 320 160 480

Table 1: Respondents for the survey

Prior to the survey, the volunteers, supervisor from Arunodhaya and I underwent a training organized by Consumers International and conducted by Mango Bus – the official consultants for this project. The training initially focused on the research background and design, target respondents, sampling procedure, sample size, instructions to supervisors, checking and review process, and dispatch of filled-in questionnaires to Mango Bus for data analysis. This was followed by detailed instructions to interviewers about introducing themselves, explaining the reasons for the survey, filling up answers, checking, routing, coding, and using show cards, etc. The trainers explained the questionnaires in detail so as to ensure better understanding. The training ended with a session on mock interviews.

In March 2018, CAG volunteers administered the survey in the Model Lane community at Royapuram. The team chose samples in a random manner from within the designated geography. However, the team ensured that there was equal representation from all parts of the community. The respondents were informed that the duration of the interview would be around 45 minutes. Volunteers interviewed the participants and filled up the questionnaires in the presence of the supervisor. The supervisor was expected to make sure that all questionnaires were filled as per requirements and verified for authenticity of data. The questionnaires then reached CAG and I once again verified every questionnaire to reconfirm responses. Finally, they were sent to Mango Bus for data analysis.

The main challenge that CAG team faced during the survey was that the respondents found the questionnaire lengthy and the entire exercise time-consuming; sustaining their interest in completing the survey was quite an effort.

The qualitative research showed that consumers had an only generic knowledge and low to moderate awareness of the eight consumer rights. A majority of consumers knew the difference between guarantee and warranty. Findings showed that making consumers aware of the sustainability aspect of product manufacturing will clearly have a positive impact on consumer behaviour. Very few of them approach the government to file product-related complaints due to their perceived lower social standing and lack of confidence.

The survey showed that the distribution of drinking water within and outside houses in the Model Lane area was on track. Most respondents believed that water available in their homes was safe for drinking. The Model Lane community seemed to be aware of modern water purification methods such as Reverse Osmosis water filters and other types of filters. There are significant misconceptions about what constitutes good quality water and how to assess its purity and quality.

Model Lane community prefers plastic pots for storing drinking water. Most people use wide mouth containers, which are easy-to-use but can easily get contaminated. In some cases, water pots are placed in unhygienic spots in the house further increasing the risk of contamination.

The community is aware that solar energy helps reduce emissions and will help counter electricity outages. However, there is only moderate interest in switching to solar energy.

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