International Research: A Case Study from Mongolia

I would like to introduce our guest blogger Irwin Hankins from The Research Pacific Group to tell you about conducting market research in some more unusual locations!


We were recently approached by a long standing client with a brand new challenge.

Put in place a survey of 1000+ ‘opinion leaders’ or public influencers in Mongolia and deliver the data in 6 weeks. The fast turnaround was so that the end client (a mining company) would have a set of data ready for a parliamentary hearing 6 weeks later.

This presented several challenges for us, not least of which being that Market Research is virtually UNKNOWN here. The few surveys which have been done by a small number of local business consultants and providers have been very limited in scope.

Another challenge was that winter was already closing in in Mongolia (average day temperature at the end of September was 15 degrees, this had dropped to -18 degrees by early November).

As the survey would be used to present information to government committees in support of a policy and investment, our first consideration was to actually be able to design a sampling plan which would stand up to scrutiny. Given that local statistical sources can be somewhat dubious in Mongolia, household ‘census’ data in a country where much of the population is still of a nomadic disposition can have its problems.

We only had two months to get everything done, so we needed to hurry. Our solution was to use satellite maps divided in 5km squares and then to apply a systematic random process to select grids. Within these, conventional social science approaches were applied to select dwelling units and people within household by a KISH grid.

A further challenge was the requirement for ‘news attentive’ or ‘opinion influencer’ people which could be tricky in a 2nd world country. However, this problem was resolved in the pilot stage when we found, quite interestingly, that even the less educated and poorer people do have a good level of information and were surprisingly well informed on many issues (even if only through Word of Mouth)

The next challenge was for us to ensure we had a large enough fieldforce. This was made possible with the assistance of a local academic and a large pool of keen & eager 2nd year students who were trained up to handle a pretty hard questionnaire. Several days of classroom briefing, role playing and then an in-field pilot, and we were ready to go! To manage our fieldforce we sent our Research Pacific staff in from our Singapore office plus other regional offices.

One plus point – although Mongolia is still a pretty ‘wild’ country, most young people are avid students of English and speak it well, or at least enough to understand the briefings. We used interpreters to supplement learning.

The final challenge was of course the fieldwork. It involved a number of steps…. often starting with getting lost! It took our team leaders and teams some time to get used to reconciling the ‘real world’ with the sat-maps in order to find the sampling points. Once we got used to this we needed to run the gauntlet of excitable canines at each ‘ger‘ (tent house – the traditional accommodation outside of the city centres) and persuade someone to take the basic screening question. Because many ‘ger’ are within one compound, and often share facilities (such as cooking stands or latrines) even the sorting out of what defines a specific household was quite time consuming (and the most common error when we did back checking of the data afterwards)

Despite these problems and more; an over-turned SUV …. luckily no injuries!  a fieldworker with a broken wrist who fell over an old man’s walking stick’ we managed to get all of the interviews done inside the deadline.

Have a look at some of these pictures:

Arriving at the sampling point


Puzzlement … this doesn’t look like the map!

Found it, but where is the gate?

Maybe this way?

Thank goodness for boots

And finally, inside!

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Jane Rudling
01962 842211
Article date - 15/01/2013
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