How the GaP Poll fills gaps in Ghana

25 Nov 2015

  Bossman Owusu is the Communications Analyst at UNDP in Ghana.

With a lot of excitement, national institutions and the media anxiously look forward to the results of the trend analysis of the three Governance and Peace Polls, christened GaP Poll.

The expectations are high. The three preceding polls raised the bar providing what some governance experts describe as an innovative approach to unearthing citizens’ confidence in key institutions of governance.

I personally witnessed the launch of the maiden Poll in June 2014. Stakeholder attendance was high, and perhaps, what amazed me was the corresponding high public interest sustained by media discussions, even days after the findings were released.

Before I continue further, let me explain what the GaP Poll is.

It is an initiative of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Ghana, borne out of the organization’s quest to have baseline information to track progress made on its work in the areas of Governance and Peace. National partners embraced the concept, proffered ideas to shape it further and have since been at the forefront of its implementation.

It is administered mainly through public surveys, with a twin objective. First, to deliver new data, specifically, data that has never been collected on specific governance issues, such as the level of public awareness of national institutions.  Second, it tracks progress between major surveys of existing data, such as the Afrobarometer survey. The provision of timely data obviously contributes to policy debates, interventions and advocacy initiatives.

For me, what makes the GaP Poll unique is that, while previous surveys such as the Afrobarometer had assessed public perception of state institutions like the Electoral Commission, the Judiciary and the Ghana Police Service, it was a novelty when the focus shifted to others like the National Peace Council and the Legal Aid Scheme.  

The GaP poll survey is also unique in another sense – it is a multi-stakeholder project. UNDP is pursuing this survey in partnership with Implementing Partners (IPs) of its Governance work plans. They include the Inter-Ministerial Coordinating Committee on Decentralization (IMCC), the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ), and the National Peace Council (NPC). The Ghana Statistical Service is also a partner, and plays a vital technical role.

To assure that the GaP Poll findings are credible and not influenced or tainted by the bias leanings of any of the partners, UNDP commissioned the Ghana Center for Democratic Development (CDD), an independent civil society organisation to carry-out the administration of the survey.

The CDD’s methodology has been simple. To ensure national representativeness, it draws responses from about 1,200 adults selected across all the ten regions of Ghana through multi-stage stratified sampling and complemented by area sampling approach. The margin of error has not been more than 5% at the 95% confidence level.

What in my view deserves an applause is the painstaking training carried out for the more than twenty field workers recruited to identify and list potential respondents. A pilot conducted to test the use and application of the protocols for this exercise showed that the workers had been fully equipped with the right skills.

The GaP Poll is administered via telephone. A major part of the logistical arrangement for the actual administration of the survey interviews involve the setting-up of a call-center and data capture station. Two call centers and data capture stations have been furnished with a total of fourteen (14) computers and mobile phones for administering the survey and capturing the data. Here, too, data receiving/interview clerks were recruited and trained to discharge their tasks creditably.

In the actual administration of the interviews, careful checks and controls coupled with good supervision have ensured that data already captured are not duplicated. At the end of interviews, data are collated and merged. Considerable effort is made to minimize errors at various stages of the data merging process including editing, coding and response entry.

This approach for providing reliable data is truly remarkable and commendable, especially as it touches on trust of public institutions. Trust in the institutions of any country is one of the most essential building blocks for a resilient democratic governance structure.

Institutions like the National Peace Council and the Commission on Human Right and Administrative Justice have been marked by expectant hush for the next Gap Poll, and for good reasons. Consistently, across the three Gap Polls, they have been rated highly by the public as institutions of trust. The converse has been true for the Electoral Commission and the law courts.

I believe the value of the innovative GaP Poll should transcend beyond the mere order in which the institutions are rated. They have far-reaching implications.  The level of trust in the legal, electoral and other public institutions responsible for managing state resources or delivering services to the people influences citizens’ decision to comply with directives and readiness to engage.

Let me contextualize this with an example of elections in Ghana. History has guided us to understand the role the National Peace Council plays in advocating for peaceful elections in Ghana. Thanks to the trust political parties have for the National Peace Council, the institution brokered several peace talks among political actors before, during and after the crucial 2012 General Elections. This has contributed in no small measure to the peace the country currently enjoys. If this trust continues, then we can almost certainly predict that the upcoming Presidential and Parliamentary elections due November 2016 would equally be peaceful.

To boost public trust in political parties and election results, UNDP and the Parties jointly designed an initiative dubbed, Joint Party Support and Strengthening (J-PASS) project. The J-PASS also seeks to promote public confidence and participation in the 2016 General Elections.

Of course, it will be naive on my part to suggest that a mere expression of trust in public institutions will be the magic wand. Certainly, much more will be required – including ensuring that the laws work and justice is upheld. Strengthening institutions, including the Electoral Commission, to perform their constitutional mandate is also crucial.

For UNDP though, the GaP Poll is an asset. For instance, it has provided evidence that the Country Office’s intervention on the Legal Aid Scheme is yielding results. Findings from the last three surveys have shown consistent increase in public knowledge of the Legal Aid Scheme from 29% in 2012 to 39% in 2015. This outcome commensurate with the massive investments UNDP is making in bringing legal aid services close to the very poor and marginalized, raising public awareness of the existence of the scheme and the free legal services it renders.  

Another striking finding of the GaP Poll is that contrary to widely held belief that women are not interested in taking leadership position, they are actually willing and ready to assume such leadership responsibilities in civil society organizations and political parties.

A fortnight ago, GaP Poll partners met to discuss the common achievements and plans for the trend analysis. The exercise expected to be completed in December 2015, is a proud beneficiary of the UNDP Innovation Facility funded by the Government of Denmark.

But what has the past GaP Polls taught us that can help improve upon subsequent ones? Well, the following are a few.

    1. Even though Ghana has made a giant stride in the penetration of telephony, especially mobile telephony, on the market significant challenges remain. One of the biggest challenges associated with administering the surveys via telephone has been connectivity. In some cases, it has been very difficult reaching respondents on their mobile phones while others reached complained that they were too busy for the interview. This sets the stage for a shift to other means such as field or face-to-face interviews that removes the bottlenecks associated with telephone interviews.

    2. After three surveys, it should be possible for the partners to determine and consolidate trends from the polls and identify the extent to which the results have helped to improve policy and advocacy in the country as envisaged.

    3. The acronym “GaP” derives from “Governance and Peace”. The past three polls have focused on Governance and Peace institutions including women participation in governance processes. Now, there are discussions on increasing the scope of the poll to cover other areas of UNDP’s work such as Energy and Environment. Once that consensus is reached, I shudder to say that the poll may cease to be “GaP”. Perhaps, the search for a romantic name for the new focus should start now.

The final issue lingering in my mind is what trends will be revealed from a closer look at the results of the three Gap Polls? If the few deductions I have made so far are anything to go by, then I can predict with a measure of certainty that, institutions that have won public trust would continue to maintain their place high and likewise for  those trusted less. But the question is, would this necessarily have implications for state institutions related to elections as we approach Elections 2016? Your guess is as good as mine.

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