Assessing the feasibility of collecting mortality-related survey data by mobile phone

Last registered on September 14, 2021


Trial Information

General Information

Assessing the feasibility of collecting mortality-related survey data by mobile phone
Initial registration date
September 14, 2021
Last updated
September 14, 2021, 6:19 PM EDT



Primary Investigator

New York University

Other Primary Investigator(s)

PI Affiliation
University of Malawi
PI Affiliation
University of Malawi
PI Affiliation
Malawi-Liverpool Wellcome Trust Clinical Research Programme
PI Affiliation
University of Malawi

Additional Trial Information

In development
Start date
End date
Secondary IDs
Prior work
This trial does not extend or rely on any prior RCTs.
In many low-income countries, few deaths are recorded with civil registration systems. Instead, vital statistics about mortality are computed from data collected every 3-5 years during large-scale household surveys. Unfortunately, such surveys are too infrequent to detect short-term fluctuations in mortality. They are also often postponed or interrupted during epidemics because they present transmission risks (e.g., during in-person interviews, large-scale trainings or cross-country travel). In this project, we will test whether survey data on mortality can be collected remotely by mobile phone. Surveys of mobile phone subscribers are increasingly common in low-income countries. They can be conducted more frequently than household surveys. They also present more limited transmission risks during epidemics. However, surveys of mobile subscribers have seldom included questions about mortality, in large part due to concerns that participants might not be willing to discuss recent deaths in their family during a phone call, or that the survey questions might generate negative feelings (e.g., sadness, distress). We will work in Malawi, a low-income country in southeastern Africa. We will recruit a random sample of mobile phone subscribers aged 18-64 years old. Among those, some participants will be randomly allocated to an interview about family deaths, whereas others will be asked to complete a commonly used questionnaire on economic activity. We will then test whether participation and completion rates are lower when the interview focuses on mortality, and we will assess whether respondents experience more negative feelings when completing an interview about family deaths. Results from this study will help develop a new method for tracking mortality in real-time in low-income countries with limited data collection systems
External Link(s)

Registration Citation

Chasukwa, Michael et al. 2021. "Assessing the feasibility of collecting mortality-related survey data by mobile phone." AEA RCT Registry. September 14.
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Experimental Details


Our study is a methodological study, which aims to document the feasibility of asking questions about mortality and recent family deaths during mobile phone interviews. Our intervention thus consists of exposing selected mobile subscribers to the possibility of participating in a mobile phone interview about recent family deaths. In the control group, mobile subscribers are offered the possibility of participating in a commonly administered questionnaire about recent economic activity and household livelihood.
Intervention Start Date
Intervention End Date

Primary Outcomes

Primary Outcomes (end points)
The primary outcome is the cooperation rate, i.e., the number of completed interviews divided by the sum of completed interviews, partial interviews and refusals.
Primary Outcomes (explanation)

Secondary Outcomes

Secondary Outcomes (end points)
Secondary outcomes include a) the discontinuation rate, i.e. the number of partial interviews divided by the sum of completed interviews and partial interviews and b) the proportion of respondents who state their willingness to participate in future interviews of varying durations. We will also investigate the occurrence of negative reactions to the interview. We will thus measure c) the proportion of respondents who self-report that some of the survey questions made them upset or generated negative feelings, and d) the proportion of respondents who displayed signs of emotional reactions/negative feelings during the interview according to the interviewer.
Secondary Outcomes (explanation)

Experimental Design

Experimental Design
Our study is a non-inferiority trial of a mortality questionnaire vs. a commonly accepted questionnaire on economic activity. We will enroll a sample of mobile subscribers using random digit dialing. Those who are eligible to participate will be randomly allocated either to an interview about recent family deaths (treatment group) or to an interview about economic activity and household livelihood (control group). Within the treatment group, respondents will be randomly assigned to either a short or an extended questionnaire on deaths. The short questionnaire will only ascertain age at death and time since the death, as well as registration status of the death. The extended questionnaire will also include potentially more sensitive questions about symptoms, circumstances and causes of deaths.
Experimental Design Details
Not available
Randomization Method
The randomization will be done in office using random numbers generated using Stata 15.1.
Randomization Unit
The randomization unit will be the individual (mobile subscriber).
Was the treatment clustered?

Experiment Characteristics

Sample size: planned number of clusters
There are no clusters in the trial. In total, we will include approximately 1,600 mobile subscribers.
Sample size: planned number of observations
There will be approximately 1,600 mobile subscribers included in the trial.
Sample size (or number of clusters) by treatment arms
Participants will be allocated to the treatment vs. control questionnaires in a 3:1 ratio. We assume that the cooperation rate is 0.86 in the control group. We set a non-inferiority margin of 0.05. Our null hypothesis is that the cooperation rate in the treatment group is lower than in the control group by more than 0.05. Our alternative hypothesis is that the cooperation rate in the treatment group is lower than in the control group by less than 0.05. To test this hypothesis with 80% power and alpha = 0.05, we require 1,194 mobile subscribers in the treatment group and 398 mobile subscribers in the control group. Sample size calculations were performed using the SampleSize4ClinicalTrials package in R.
Minimum detectable effect size for main outcomes (accounting for sample design and clustering)

Institutional Review Boards (IRBs)

IRB Name
University of Malawi
IRB Approval Date
IRB Approval Number
IRB Name
New York University - Abu Dhabi
IRB Approval Date
IRB Approval Number