5 July 2022

As part of the Responsible Data for Children Initiative (RD4C), The GovLab at New York University and UNICEF have released a case study on the collection of sensitive data in Zimbabwe

The case study highlights the protection protocols developed and put in place jointly by Zimbabwe’s National Statistical Agency (ZIMSTAT) and the MICS team to responsibly and ethically handle sensitive data on domestic violence. It also identifies the challenges and limitations to implement and monitor some of these procedures in the field and suggests ways for practitioners to address them.


During preparations for the 2019 MICS in Zimbabwe, government agencies and stakeholders approached UNICEF for support to generate data on the incidence of domestic and gender-based violence as part of the MICS. While MICS has included questions related to “attitudes toward domestic violence” for many years, a module to measure the prevalence of domestic violence was not part of standard MICS questionnaires. As a result, a decision was made to include the domestic violence module developed by the Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) program. The introduction of a highly sensitive topic in the MICS raised ethical and protection concerns that were not applicable to standard MICS modules. Questions arose, such as: What to do if a respondent is visibly distressed while recalling an instance of abuse during the interview? How to offer psychosocial support to individuals in need while ensuring confidentiality to prevent stigmatization or potential retaliation from an abuser?

Addressing the issue

Throughout the design and preparations for the MICS, UNICEF worked closely with ZIMSTAT, the Ministry of Women Affairs and the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare to devise a set of measures that would ensure respondents' safety during fieldwork while maximizing the disclosure of adolescents' and women's experiences of violence. This work drew from prior experiences of MICS and ZIMSTAT in collecting similar data and built on existing frameworks and tools that had been applied in similar contexts. Among others, the following issues were addressed as part of the process: interviewers were trained on domestic violence -what do victims look like, signs to look out for to identify violence, and how respondents may try to address their experiences- as well as on sensitive interviewing techniques; criteria were defined to identify critical cases for referral to psychosocial support services; information on locally-available support services for women experiencing violence was provided to respondents; sampling techniques were adopted to maximize the safety of respondents.

Lessons for future surveys

As the demand for data on the incidence of domestic violence, gender-based violence and violence against children grows, the Zimbabwe 2019 MICS case study provides insights and recommendations for other countries on how to collect this data responsibly. As summarized in the RD4C blog, the MICS domestic violence protocols in Zimbabwe "captured the RD4C principles of being purpose-driven (targeted at filling a specific data gap and informing ongoing policy discussions), participatory (involved a wide variety of stakeholders in managing each phase of the effort), and preventative of harm across the data lifecycle (relied on techniques through collection, processing, and analysis to guarantee the safety and confidentiality of respondents).”. The case study “provides a useful example for RD4C because it demonstrates how responsible practices can evolve and be supplemented over time. It also demonstrates how principles can be realized in the field in an open, participatory fashion and the challenges that practitioners can face with field work."




Access the full case study here.