Enhancing demographic survey protocols to characterise household dynamics that influence health–a participatory approach from rural Eswatini

Michelle R. Brear, Pinky N. Shabangu, Karin Hammarberg, Jane Fisher

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Standard Western demographic survey protocols fail to capture dynamics, such as circular migration and support networks, that profoundly influence the health of non-Western domestic social groups, typically called households. Enhanced protocols are needed because survey data provide the primary evidence base for health policy and planning globally. We present the participatory development, implementation and analysis of a novel demographic survey protocol, that aimed to better capture domestic social dynamics in rural Eswatini, southern Africa. The multiple-method study incorporated participatory health research about a community affected by HIV/AIDS, of which the survey formed part, and an ethnography of the participatory survey development process. Analysis of the data revealed limitations in the reliability and validity of standardised survey questions for measuring household membership, in contexts where circular migration and polygamy are common. Standard survey protocols potentiate double-counting members and misclassifying ‘child-headed’ and ‘female-headed’ households. They neglect social and economic dynamics that are known to influence health. Our novel demographic survey protocol provides a simple alternative method for capturing core data about circular migration and its impact on health. The study illustrates the contributions participatory and ethnographic research can make to enhancing demographic surveys.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages14
JournalGlobal Public Health
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2021


  • child-headed households
  • cross-over mixed methods analysis
  • demographic survey protocols
  • indigenous knowledge
  • Participatory health research

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