The QI user survey to assess the demand of quality infrastructure

Insights about an economy’s present and future demand for quality assurance services are essential for developing a national quality infrastructure (NQI). Gaining a clear understanding of the needs and demand for QI services in a country complements the analysis of supply-side data, resulting in more sound decisions on QI development programs and their scope. A proper demand assessment is critical to both the capacity building of individual QI Institutions and the identification of effective reforms of the overall NQI in a country. Although the need for demand-driven NQI development is emphasized by funding agencies such as UNIDO and PTB, the demand side is still often neglected.

Specific tools are required to understand and analyse the NQI’s demand side. In this context, the Calidena method is a comprehensive demand assessment tool that can help study the QI needs of specific economic sectors and value chains [see QI4D blog post from 12 December 2021]. A suitable instrument for a more rapid and less resource-intensive NQI demand-side assessment is a survey of the main users of QI services, typically enterprises, to learn about their knowledge, use and quality perception of QI services.

For the adequate design of an enterprise survey, decisions need to be made about the survey content (questionnaire), the structure of the targeted respondent group (sample matrix), the size of the respondent group (sample size) and the source of respondents names and contact data (sample framework).

The main survey instrument, the survey questionnaire, should be tailor-made, context-specific and designed jointly with the client and the leading NQI institutions in a country. The latter should be involved in the survey execution and analysis to be able to replicate the survey in the future. The answers to the questions help align the NQI service offers in a country with user requirements and expectations, thus constituting an essential input into improving an NQI system.

The survey questions should focus on the views and needs of users of QI services. In a recent QI user survey in Malaysia (as part of a project funded by EU ARISE Plus and implemented by the International Trade Centre/ITC), we integrated elements as follows:

  • General information about the enterprise (size, sector, export activities, location, quality issues)
  • Use and relevance of standards
  • Use, relevance, availability and assessment of conformity assessment services
  • Importance of accreditation of conformity assessment bodies (CABs)
  • Knowledge of technical regulations and market surveillance

Such a survey usually targets business owners, business managers, and entrepreneurs, as they are best suited in their respective companies to answer QI-related questions. The selection of the type of companies to be surveyed is crucial for the survey’s outcome. Structuring the sample for a QI survey includes decisions on the coverage of sector affiliation and the company size (following the prevalent definition of company sizes in a country). Further possible stratifications could consider the legal form, the location in a country (if levelling up territorial QI service access is an objective) and female versus male ownership status (if gender-related inclusiveness of QI service access is targeted). Ideally, the sample structure fully represents the real economy’s structure and composition for all the aspects above.

Based on the stratifications, it is possible to build a sample matrix. The more stratifications are selected, the more multidimensional the sample matrix becomes. The following table shows a simple two-dimensional sample matrix used in Malaysia’s recent QI survey.

AgricultureMiningStructure by size
Structure by sector43%6%6%40%4%1%
Table: Sample Matrix used in Malaysia’s QI user survey
Source: ITC (2022), “Assessment of Malaysia’s National Quality Infrastructure”, unpublished

The sample size is calculated using an appropriate standard formula that takes the selected enterprise population as a point of departure. For instance, the methodology applied by the World Bank Enterprise Survey could be adopted, generating a large enough sample size to conduct statistically robust analyses with levels of precision at a minimum of 7.5% for 90% confidence intervals [2].

Finally, there is the challenge of identifying the actual companies that match the sample matrix composition and encouraging the managers, owners or quality managers to complete the survey form. A typical source could be a sector-specific or a general business directory that offers company names, relevant other details and contact data. Depending on the survey mode, e.g. face-to-face interviews (using paper or tablets), phone-based or online, such a business directory (sample framework) can be utilised in different ways to identify and get in touch with potential respondents.

In the most recent online survey, we used Google Forms. We cooperated with leading NQI institutions and selected business associations to reach customers and member enterprises to complete the questionnaire. In such a case, however, it is challenging to realise a precise target structure, even though we managed to get close to our sample matrix. Also, when approaching enterprises through NQI institutions and business membership organisations that work with NQI institutions, a particular bias in the (self-)selection of responding firms is unavoidable. 

Quite frequently, national QI bodies involved in an NQI assessment initially hesitate to consult their users. However, we often saw companies that know about and use QI services rating them positively regarding availability, quality and price (see Figure below). At the same time, a significant proportion of companies, especially SMEs, are unfamiliar with QI and its services. This is important to know for intensifying QI awareness campaigns and SME outreach events.

Figure: User assessment of conformity assessment services in Malaysia in 2022
Source: ITC (2022), “Assessment of Malaysia’s National Quality Infrastructure”, unpublished.

The QI user survey experiences in Malaysia and other locations have shown that such a demand-analysis instrument is a necessary complement to a supply-side (self-)assessment of QI institutions using instruments like the Rapid Diagnostic Tool (RDT) [see QI4D blog post from 9 January 2023] [2]. Both supply- and demand-side perspectives are necessary to gain a deep understanding of a QI system. Enterprises typically have a critical view on the quality assurance of their products and services as the availability, accessibility and reliability of QI services directly impact their market access and competitiveness.

The survey methodology to collect these views must be solid, robust and replicable. A QI user survey should not be a one-off exercise. It should be conducted regularly across sectors and regions in a country to identify satisfaction with existing services and identify new service requirements. Under this condition, survey results could significantly help to improve an NQI system incrementally and constantly.


[1] The Worldbank Enterprise survey website

[2] PTB QI Toolkit

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