Meet our Research Operations team: how we collect impact data at 60 Decibels

The 60 Decibels Research Operations (RO) team is the backbone of our data collection process. Our network of 1,200+ local Research Assistants speak more than 195 languages and have conducted phone surveys in 82 countries to date.

By Lily Dube, Resourcing Specialist on Research Operations. This blog is part of a series that takes an inside look at how our Lean Data methodology is put into practice. 

At 60 Decibels, we’re believers in listening directly to people to understand, from their perspective, the impact they experience. That might sound obvious, but gathering direct social outcome data based on speaking to customers and beneficiaries still isn’t standard practice in 2023.  

We are here to help companies, investors and NGOs change this by giving them access to our globally distributed team—both our 60dB staff and Research Assistants (RAs) in more than 80 countries—that is at work virtually every hour of the day collecting, coding and analyzing social performance data to drive better investment and business decisions. 

The Research Operations Team at a retreat in Nairobi

In 2022 alone, we analyzed more than 3 million data points. Our Research Assistants spoke directly to customers in candid, 15 minute phone conversations, made up of both quantitative and qualitative questions. 

In my three years at 60 Decibels, I’ve had the joy of interacting with many Research Assistants firsthand—while they all have different experiences and backgrounds, they share a common excitement for empowering the end users we’re working to reach. These Research Assistants understand local contexts in ways that would never be possible with a centralized team, and that’s what sets our data apart: our RAs are invested in truly unpacking how the people we’re surveying engage with the product or service we’re investigating.

What does our Research Operations team do?

The 60 Decibels Research Operations (RO) team is the backbone of our data collection process. Our network of 1,200+ local Research Assistants speak more than 195 languages and have conducted phone surveys in 82 countries to date. On average, our RAs come to 60 Decibels with 7 years of work experience, primarily in the education, social sector, and market research fields. 90% of RAs have completed a bachelor’s degree, with over 35% holding a masters degree or higher. On average, 53% of RAs identify as women, and 47% as men.

This global network is managed by our Research Operations team, who ensure that we gather high-quality data with integrity (and, of course, in compliance with all regulations.)

60dB Research Assistant Spotlight: Md. Amanul Islam

Amanul has worked with 60 Decibels for three years and is based in Dhaka, Bangladesh. He studied Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Dhaka, receiving both undergraduate and postgraduate degrees.

Working for 60 Decibels aligns with Amanul’s professional goals of making a “positive impact in the world from the root level,” starting with each individual phone interview.

“My education and experience in the field of research has given me a deep understanding of the complex social, political, and economic issues that can lead to peace, as well as the potential solutions that can help to address these issues.”

Amanul is one of the many RAs who bring a passion for social impact and rich understanding of their country to 60 Decibels.

How do we recruit and train Research Assistants at 60 Decibels?

We recruit people from a variety of backgrounds and geographies, connected by one common thread: an interest in social impact and a desire to make positive social change. Some Research Assistants have a social science background, others have previous customer success experience. As part of their training, each Research Assistant completes a detailed and certificated Core Training. This training covers 60 Decibels’ mission and values, our core work product, as well as the Lean Data methodology and the requirements and benefits of being a 60 Decibels researcher. After the Researcher Assistants complete the Core Training and are officially onboarded as 60 Decibels researchers, they go through a project-specific training; they meet their project managers, coordinators/team, and they understand the project’s goal, the company, its industry sector, its customers and how to effectively utilize the instruments of the data collection process.

RA’s work often goes beyond phone surveys, sometimes including qualitative coding and data quality assurance. Many full time 60dB staff (around 10%!) were once Research Assistants. 

“When a third party like 60 Decibels calls, we get a sharper understanding of the extent to which our loans improve the lives of our borrowers.”

– Eli Cherner, Director of Kiva US

What do our clients have to say about our research and data quality?

Our partners genuinely value the work of the Research Operations team.

Dorah Mwenye, a coordinator at Mobility for Africa told us, “As a researcher, I learned a lot from the way you structured your questionnaire; I am particularly excited by the individual customer responses, as this will help MFA to provide rationale for future projects.”

Eli Cherner, the Director of Kiva US, recounted how 60dB data helps provide better insight into their work in microfinance. “When a third party like 60 Decibels calls, we get a sharper understanding of the extent to which our loans improve the lives of our borrowers. Getting closer to the truth by removing potential positive bias from internal surveying is key to understanding impact. Reaching borrowers in the language they’re most comfortable with goes a long way to supporting more authentic and honest answers.”

Some takeaways

60 Decibels RAs follow a specific, tested survey methodology to ensure the interviewees feel comfortable and that they respond candidly. The trust and rapport our RAs build, combined with the tried-and-tested 60 Decibels questions developed by our team, ensure that the data our RAs collect give meaningful, comparable data on the effectiveness of a wide range of products, services, and programs—allowing companies to learn and improve, and investors to better deploy capital to create social impact. 

The data this team gathers not only enables clients to improve their products and services, but also helps them to credibly demonstrate and improve their social performance over time – a true win-win.

Want to find out more about our impact measurement projects?

Check out our insights page for all our publicly available reports and case studies – or get in touch with our team here

Lily is a Resourcing Specialist, Research Operations on 60 Decibels’ USA team. Prior to 60 Decibels, Lily worked as a Professional Services Analyst at Ambra Health in Denver, Colorado and spent a summer in NYC interning for American Jewish World Service, an international human rights organization. She holds a BA in Sociology from Colorado College.

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