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Preference elicitation

Innovative methods to capture respondent preferences

15 April 2021
Preference elicitation in household surveys and lab-in-the-field experiments are designed to understand core beliefs and preferences.

Why preference elicitation?

Preference elicitation in household surveys and other experiments are designed to understand core beliefs and preferences within the target population, as part of program design. Building these questions into data collection can reduce the need to impose assumptions about people’s preferences, and can inform resource allocation decisions.

Many health, education, livelihoods, and other programs depend on understanding people’s preferences. For example, programs that offer basic income support may assume that recipients prefer cash to the equivalent value in government- or NGO-provided services. Or programs may assume that constituents place relatively more value on older children than on newborns. Assumptions like these inform tradeoffs across types of interventions, sectors, and programs serving different demographic groups. While these assumptions may well hold in some circumstances, designing and implementing the highest-impact programs benefit from empirical information about preferences in the target communities.

IDinsight has developed, validated, and deployed methods to elicit preferences for cash transfer programs, and those methods have wider applicability.

They are particularly useful for governments, funders, and NGOs interested in aligning their priorities with those of a host community. For example, research by IDinsight supported by GiveWell found that potential aid recipients in Kenya and Ghana placed a higher value on life than predicted by existing literature from high-income countries; and respondents placed a higher value on young children’s lives relative to older children and adults.

Building preference elicitation into needs assessments and/or baseline studies can help program designers and funders fulfill aspirations of serving communities, rather than imposing services on communities.