Tracking progress in peacebuilding and statebuilding poses a number of difficulties in Somaliland. Security is a problem in some areas. A pervasive challenge relates to local sensitivities, and more specifically to perceptions of partiality among the data collectors who may be seen as advocating particular political entities or favouring particular political orientations. This can compromise the quality of the research and analysis.
In post-conflict contexts where state and non-state institutions are fragile, the Observatory, like many other similar organisations, must walk a delicate path and be highly conscious of sensitive ways to engage in issues that are potentially politically volatile and could have serious negative implications for the research. In such environments what is said is less important than who is saying it. Policymakers can dismiss or ignore important issues simply because they dislike who is raising them.
In Somaliland this mentality has been incrementally built into the institutional culture over the past twenty years. And because the Observatory deals explicitly with subjectivity – focusing on people’s perceptions – data-gathering on key issues like governance, justice, security and conflict must be acutely sensitive to issues of clan identity or political orientation. Affiliation (or perception of it) can skew people’s views towards the performance of service delivery. Information provided may be biased through opposition to the government or support for it. To mitigate this, the Observatory uses guidelines by which data collectors take great care to gather data from all quarters or divides in a given area.
Survey fatigue is a major challenge for data collection in Somaliland as people tire of frequent and repetitive non-governmental organisation (NGO) assessment visits. This is a big problem – for public perception surveys especially – as local public attitudes towards NGOs conducting the surveys affect both the quality and quantity of data. People might not be interested in giving information, or they might tell you what they think you want to hear. The Observatory tries to moderate this by mixing staff from the centre with local employees in order to collect reliable data.
Over time, focus groups also tend to attract the same people or groups and the same faces appear at discussions on every field visit, resulting in information that does not necessarily reflect the broader views of residents. Again, using local staff with detailed local knowledge helps to widen participation.