Scott Lansell is GeoPoll’s Vice President for International Development & Relief, and manages GeoPoll’s work in the international development and humanitarian sectors. Below is an abbreviated version of his conversation with Roxana Elliott about how GeoPoll’s solutions are enabling better decision making for international development stakeholders.
Roxana Elliott: Thanks for speaking with me! Can you start by telling me about your background before you came to GeoPoll?
Scott Lansell: My first exposure to International Development was at USAID, where I worked in several functions culminating as a desk officer for several east European countries in the early 1990s after the Berlin wall fell. During that time I was first exposed to USAID’s mission and its operational processes along with its many implementing partners in its role leading the US’s development assistance programs across the globe. After USAID, I joined the International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES) where I focused on portfolio and regional management within the democracy and governance sector with focus on elections administration internationally. I then joined World Learning, focusing on civil society, governance, higher education, and workforce development, where I also led the NGO’s donor diversification team including the launch of World Learning Europe.
What drew you to GeoPoll and what are your current responsibilities?
It was clear from my prior work that being able to regularly monitor and report on the impact of the interventions underway in the international development space was crucial to long term sustainability and documentation of development impact. GeoPoll brought an innovative approach and capacity offering mobile survey research and data collection to international development implementers and donors. It brings the 21st century into development and monitoring project success which demonstrates a way that the international community should utilize.
In addition to leading GeoPoll’s business development efforts to engage new clients and maintain our existing clients, I also oversee the program management teams that implement our international development projects – this dual role is important as it is important to understand both the business development and implementation sides ensuring that what we are offer is feasible, cost effective, and meets the objectives and expectations of each of our clients.
Why do you think research solutions such as GeoPoll’s are so important in the international development sector?
The key to a successful development project is being able to show the impact of the work and track how the intervention is received, localized and transferred to local ownership. In traditional sectors this can be dependent on deploying staff in person to gather and monitor implementation. The challenge with this approach to impact monitoring and assessment is there can be bias, or difficulties in accessing remote efforts due to security, health crises, and logistics. Too often the most vulnerable populations may be under-represented due to these and other limiting factors.
GeoPoll brings a capacity to undertake data collection using both high-tech and low-tech means. While we are data collection company, we’re not dependent on internet access or people who have high-end mobile devices. We can reach people from all backgrounds to have a better understanding of what those populations are feeling about interventions. We offer various approaches or modes to engage different populations – for example, when you’re reaching out to a fisherman in a village a low-tech approach is useful. Clients that come to us in the international development and relief sector are focused on the broadest populations, those who are most disenfranchised and most difficult to access. Mobile has the ability to help transcend these barriers.
What has surprised you about GeoPoll and the projects we work on?
The speed at which we can create and deliver a solution has always impressed me. While timelines in the development sectors can be significant, GeoPoll can respond to clients’ needs, design and offer viable solutions, and then move to implement solutions in a matter of days. I’ve been a part of project design that offered raw data in only one week after the initial conversation with the client – this is unheard of when using more traditional approaches.
Where do you think GeoPoll will go in the future?
There is constant interest in expanding the services we offer to meet our clients’ needs. We are constantly looking to offer new and innovative approaches and platforms. Being able to use both traditional and higher-tech solutions in conjunction with each other is unique as we are trying to meet a quickly expanding demand for technological solutions without losing traditional approaches and access to the lower socio-economic populations we serve. We aren’t only focused on offering the latest new mobile application because the populations we often need to speak to don’t always have access to the latest technology.
How has GeoPoll adapted its solutions to COVID in the past year?
It became clear very early in 2020 that COVID-19 was becoming this generation’s largest challenge. GeoPoll’s leadership quickly determined we needed to make sure that donors and implementers could quickly access public perceptions on the pandemic and do so without putting people’s lives at risk. Beginning in March of 2020, we conducted several studies on COVID-19 and were able to collect data in multiple waves to show what mobile can bring when data must be collected remotely. We also very quickly redesigned our training and monitoring structure to ensure the safety of our call center operators, so that we can continue to offer the same quality of service to clients even when people are working remotely.
What’s a fact about yourself that people may not know right away?
I’ve always been a consumer of world history and have a tendency to look at situations and ask myself ‘Where have I seen this before and what can I learn from it?’ I also enjoy cartography – I see maps as art and have an appreciation for diversity of cultures which began very early after living overseas as a child. I enjoy following international affairs from the perspective of not just an American but also looking at how we as a global community can and will play key roles on the international stage. No matter what I’m doing, I’m trying to play a small role in working to support global efforts to help develop self-sufficiency and make the world a better place regardless of nationality, region or culture.