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This guidance is intended to provide information to support the use of the SLPD to gather information from community members. This guidance does not include:

  • The general skills required for a person to conduct a structured interview
  • How to decide on a sampling strategy


The SLPD is designed to be used by interviewers with:

a) secondary school or higher level of education
b) skills and experience in conducting structured interviews

The process should be supervised by a person with a strong background in research and/ or evaluation. This lead person will be responsible for training the interviewers; monitoring the quality of their work and providing support where necessary; managing any ethical issues which arise.


Detailed information about ethical issues involved in this type of information-gathering exercise can be found elsewhere, for example the following resources which are available online:

IFRC (2017) IFRC Monitoring and evaluation framework for psychosocial support interventions: Guidance note Copenhagen: IFRC

Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) Reference Group for Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Emergency Settings (2014) Recommendations for Conducting Ethical Mental Health and Psychosocial Research in Emergency Settings Geneva: IASC

Some key ethical issues are outlined below.

Safety of interviewer and respondent must be prioritised.

Systems must be in place to ensure that the location of interviewers is known to supervisors and that communication is possible in case of any difficulties. It is often advisable for interviewers to work in pairs.

Respondents must freely consent to participating in the interview, with full knowledge of what is involved.

Before the interview begins, the process should be explained to each potential participant, fully informing them of all that is involved, including the purpose of the interview, how and what information will be collected, how the information will be used, and potential risks and benefits to respondents. The potential outcomes of the data collection must be described honestly, even if it is likely that it may lead to no specific benefits to the community. Care must be taken to avoid raising unrealistic expectations during assessments. People must be free to decline or end participation without any negative consequences.

For children, people experiencing severe mental disorder and those who are unable to consent for themselves, alternative mechanisms should be used to obtain consent.

Informed consent may be taken either verbally or in writing, depending on the context.

Interviewers should be trained to respond appropriately if the respondent becomes distressed.

As part of preventing distress, it is important to make clear during the consent process that respondents may decline to discuss particular topics at any point. However, regardless of the steps taken to make the interviews as safe an experience as possible for respondents, it is possible that some may become distressed during interviews. The training of data collectors should include guidance on how to respond if this occurs, which can include:

  • You are not trained to assist the person directly
  • Provide compassionate listening and accompaniment to someone who is distressed. Give her/ him the option to have a break or discontinue the interview. If they do not wish to continue, thank them for their participation and ask whether they want to be put in touch with someone who they can talk to.
  • If they do, make that referral before the respondent leaves, and tell the respondent what will happen next.

Some respondents may need to be referred to services which can provide more ongoing support. Before the data collection begins, individuals and/ or organisations who are able to provide mental health and psychosocial support should be identified, and systems put in place for referrals to be made in an appropriate, safe way. Once systems have been established, all those involved in the data collection must be trained in when and how to make referrals for further support when needed.

Keep information obtained during interviews confidential.

Put systems in place to make sure that information given by a respondent cannot become known by people outside the data-collection team. Interviewers’ training and codes of conduct should require them not to discuss respondents’ answers or personal details with people outside of the data collection team, even once the exercise is finished. However, if a respondent is discovered to be at risk of harm (or of harming others), confidentiality must be breached in order to protect safety. The limits to confidentiality should be included in the informed consent process. In addition, steps must be taken to ensure that data is made anonymous and stored securely.


The SLPD interview should take place in a community setting ideally (rather than a clinical setting), in a place which is private enough for the questions and responses not to be overheard by others.

The location can be chosen by the respondent, and should be a place where both the respondent and the interviewer are safe.

Locations may include: an open space, under a tree; a community centre; a private home.


The SLPD is designed to be used with ordinary adult community members. It has not been tested or validated with children and young people under 18 years. We do not cover sampling strategies in this guidance, but you can find useful information in the following resource (freely available online):

UNICEF (2011)Inter-Agency Guide to the Evaluaton of Psychosocial Programming in Emergencies. New York: United Nations Children’s Fund.


The information gathered during interviews can be recorded:

  • On paper. This requires one copy of the questionnaire to be printed for each respondent.
  • Electronically. Software packages (e.g. Kobo) can be used to record interview information on tablets and mobile phones, and uploaded when the interviewer has an internet connection.

If possible, there are significant advantages to recording the information electronically.


When a potential respondent is identified and approached, the first thing to do is to introduce yourself and explain why you would like to talk to them. Your explanation will depend on the reason you are conducting the assessment (e.g. whether it is a project evaluation, an interest in understanding community wellbeing, or some other reason). However, you might want to include the following points:

  • Your name and who you are working for
  • The reason you are gathering information in this community
  • Why you have chosen this particular individual as a potential respondent
  • What the interview will involve (e.g. length, types of questions)
  • Confidentiality
  • Any benefits or risks involved in participation in the interview.

The information to be provided should be written down so that every interviewer explains it in the same way to all potential participants. This avoids any confusion, misunderstandings or rumours when people in the community later tell others about what they participated in, or were asked to participate in.

Example introduction

[Name of organisation] are here today to learn about the situation of people who live in this community and I am helping them to do this. We are using a system to randomly select houses in this village where we will go to invite a person to help us by answering some questions. If you agree to help, I will ask you some questions about your life and how things have been for you recently. I would like to talk to you for about one hour.

During the interview I will write down your answers so I can remember what you have told me. I will write down facts about you, like your age, but I will not write down your name. I will not write down any information which can be used to identify you.

If you think you would rather not take part in the interview, you are free to tell me that, and you can also decide to stop at any time during the interview. There won't be any problem if you don't want to continue.

[Name of organisation] are working closely with key stakeholders, and this information will help to make sure that services in Sierra Leone are what people really need.

We know that an hour is a long time to spend answering questions, so we will be able to give something small to compensate you for your time.

Do you have any questions? Do you agree to take part in this interview?

If the person agrees to the interview, then you may want to record some background information (e.g. age, gender, village). The background information to be gathered should be agreed in advance, and should not include more than is necessary for the assessment/evaluation. Keep confidentiality in mind and do not record names on the interview form.


The ‘measure of psychological distress’ is the part of the SLPD that asks about signs of distress over the last one week (18 questions). It is important to explain this well, and to check that the respondent understands what the questions are about and how they should indicate their response.

In our experience, respondents can find this difficult to understand initially, and if the interviewer does not ensure that they understand before proceeding then there is a risk that respondent’s answers to the questions that follow will be meaningless.

The instructions for this section are below:

I will ask you about some difficult experiences that people sometimes have. I would like you to tell me how much you have had these experiences in the last one week,including today.

    ⴰ Not at all

    ⴰ A little

    ⴰ Quite a lot

    ⴰ Very much

You can use the pictures of the jerry cans to help you if you like. The more water there is in the jerry can, the more you have had the experience over the last one week:

The key elements that interviewers should focus on are:

  • Explaining the frame (the last one week, including today). It can be helpful to ask the respondent to identify an event that occurred one week ago, to help them focus on the appropriate timeframe. For example: ‘is there something you can remember that happened a week ago’, ‘yes, the market always happens on a Thursday’, ‘OK, so then think about how much you’ve had these experiences since the last market day’.
  • Explaining the response options (not at all, a little, quite a lot, very much), and how to use the jerry cans to indicate how much the respondent has experienced something.
  • Checking whether a respondent understands how to use the jerry cans to respond. It can be helpful to ask a simple question which has an easy answer, and asking the respondent to indicate which jerry can they would choose to show their response. For example: ‘If I asked you how cold you’re feeling today, which of the jerry cans best shows this?’. If the respondent does not choose a jerry can which reflects the current temperature, the interviewer can clarify with them and ask them to choose again, or ask a different question.

You can see a demonstration of this introduction in the videos below, one in English and one in Krio.



There are 18 questions in this section of the SLPD scale. For each one, read out the question as it is (in English or in Krio). Do not change the wording of the question at all – ask it exactly as it is.

When the respondent chooses one of the four options, either by giving their answer verbally (e.g. ‘a little’) or by pointing to one of the jerry cans, record their answer and move on to the next question. There is no discussion of their answer in this section.

You can see a demonstration of how to ask the questions in the ‘psychological distress’ part of the SLPD in the videos below, one in English and one in Krio.



We found that respondents often forget that we have asked them to focus only on the last one week, and they start thinking about how they feel right now or how they have felt recently (e.g. the last few months). For this reason, it is helpful to keep reminding them that you want them to think only about how things have been for them over the last one week.

You can see an example of how to encourage respondents to focus on the last one week in the videos below, one in English and one in Krio.



The purpose of this part of the SLPD is to understand the effects that a respondent’s level of psychological distress is having on their ability to carry out the ordinary tasks that they are expected to complete for themselves, their families and their communities.

In order to achieve this, the SLPD includes a list of nine tasks that are often expected of women, and nine tasks that are often expected of men. Depending on the gender of the respondent, you will ask about one of these sets of tasks.

However, the instructions for both men and women are the same. They are asked about each task, and asked to tell the interviewer how much difficulty they have with this task compared to most other men/women of their age. We have found that these instructions can be difficult for respondents to understand, so the interviewer has to be very careful with the explanation.

The instructions for this section are below:

I am going to read a list of tasks and duties. For each one I am going to ask you how much difficulty
you have doing it compared to MOST OTHER MEN/ WOMEN OF YOUR AGE. You should tell me
whether you are having:
    ⴰ no more difficulty
    ⴰ a little more
    ⴰ a moderate amount more
    ⴰ a lot more
    ⴰ you cannot do the task
To make it easier to remember I have a card here with pictures. Each picture represents a different amount of difficulty. Show the respondent the card illustrating levels of difficulty. Point to each picture as you describe it.

The key elements that interviewers should focus on in explaining this are:

  • Explaining that the respondent should think about how much difficulty they have doing a task compared to another man/ woman of their age. This is quite difficult for people to do; instead they tend to just report how much difficulty they have doing the task, without considering whether others of their age also have the same amount of difficulty.
  • Explaining the response options (no more difficulty; a little more; a moderate amount more; a lot more; you cannot do the task), and how to use the pictures to indicate how much difficulty a person has compared to another man/ woman of their age.
  • Checking whether a respondent understands how to respond by using one or more ‘test questions’, in the same way as when introducing the ‘measure of psychological distress’. It is important to continue to explain and check understanding until the respondent grasps what is required.
  • You can see a demonstration of this introduction in the video below, which is in Krio.


There are nine questions in both the female and the male version of the ‘assessment of ability’. For each one, the interviewer needs to ask a series of questions, depending on how the respondent answers. An example is shown below, for the first task for women, which is ‘cooking for the family’.

The interviewer should read out the task and then say:

Are you having no more difficulty than most other men/ women of your age, a little more, a moderate amount more, a lot more, or you often cannot do the task?

When the respondent answers, either verbally (e.g. ‘a little’) or by pointing to one of the pictures, the interviewer should record their answer.

If the respondent indicates no more difficulty in doing a task, the interviewer goes to the next task and repeats the process.

However – if the respondent indicates at least a little more difficulty (responses 1, 2, 3 or 4), the interviewer should ask the following question before going on to the next task:

What causes this difficulty?

The interviewer should then decide whether the cause is a result of a physical problem, an emotional problem or something else (e.g. lack of money). This can sometimes be a challenging judgement to make, so we suggest that the interviewer also writes a brief description of the cause of the difficulty, so that the supervisor can review the responses and give feedback to enable interviewers to judge more easily whether a cause should be categorised as physical, emotional or ‘other’.

The interviewer then moves onto the next task on the list and repeats the process.


    ⴰ Remind the respondent as you ask the questions what the five pictures represent

    ⴰ Respondents should consider how much difficulty they have compared to someone else of their age and general circumstances. If they say it is difficult, check whether it would be difficult for someone else of the same age in the same circumstances (e.g. doing the same job, with the same family responsibilities). So if they have to travel for work and it’s difficult, is it more difficult for them to do this than it would be for someone else of the same age? Or if the work takes a lot of energy or is tiring, do they find this more difficult than someone else of the same age would do?

    ⴰ Emphasise and remind respondents that none of the tasks depend on money. For example, ‘earn income’ is not about whether they are actually able to earn an income, but whether they are able to do the activity that is intended to generate income. If they sell on the street, how much difficulty do they have actually getting out and doing that activity (regardless of whether they actually manage to sell anything or not).

    ⴰ Remind respondents that they should think about the difficulty they have had in the last one week

    ⴰ Keep in mind the purpose of the assessment of ability. We ask these questions not because we want to know whether the task is difficult, but because we want to understand the respondent’s wellbeing and their ability to do normal things.

You can see a demonstration of how to ask the questions in the ‘assessment of ability’ part of the SLPD in the videos below, one in English and one in Krio.



Some of the research assistants who were part of the process of developing and testing the SLPD scale have shared some tips that they found helpful when asking the questions of respondents. You can learn from their experiences in the videos below, one in English and one in Krio.