ILO Manual Survey Approach

The new ILO Manual recommends the use of official labor force or other household surveys as the platform for measuring volunteer work. This approach guarantees that the measurement of volunteer work is institutionalized in existing economic statistical systems rather than being left to periodic and uneven private data collection efforts. The use of labor force surveys has particular advantages: they are based on large samples, involve a short reference period that minimizes recall bias, and entail interviewing techniques aimed to minimize nonresponse bias.

Respondents to the survey module recommended by the ILO Manual are asked to identify any activity in which they have engaged over the past month (the recommended recall period) that fits the definition of volunteer work. They are then asked a series of questions about the frequency, amount of time, type of work, and auspices of each such activity in turn. This approach maintains throughout the interview the focus on what the respondent actually did.

Unlike paid labor, however, volunteer work often occurs irregularly and for relatively short periods of time, and as a result, the accurate recall of these activities may prove problematic for many people. To reduce this error, the ILO Manual recommends the use of limited prompting to fix the definition of volunteering more securely in the respondent’s mind, thus assisting the respondents in recalling their past behavior. The prompting method it recommends provides some detailed illustrations of the kinds of activity that are generally considered to be volunteer work, which is less burdensome and time consuming than providing a list of specific prompts, as is done in some surveys.

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