Memorandum

Biennial Survey of Volunteers Echoes Calls for Reform

The Peace Corps 2008 Biennial Survey of Volunteers confirms the gist of the viewpoints expressed above in the affidavits of Volunteers.15 The survey provides evidence of pervasive mediocrity, low standards in training and Volunteer support (except for safety/security and medical), and a failure to give Volunteers reasonable opportunities to achieve sustainable First Goal (development) results.

Every two years the Peace Corps surveys the current Volunteers. The results of the most recent survey—reported on November 24, 2008—confirm a substantial difference between the Volunteers’ views regarding their service, which are enthusiastic, and those regarding the management of the Peace Corps, which are equivocal. The Peace Corps often quotes the former survey results and fails to mention the latter.16 Presented here is a summary of all of the survey results, positive and not so positive. Also presented are country-to-country comparisons.17 The results are given in considerable detail because no one knows better than the Volunteers how the Peace Corps is being managed and what it is accomplishing.

The most recent survey was completed by about half the Volunteers serving between May and August 2008. Some 87% of respondents did it on line.18 We have strong evidence that the Volunteers who did not complete the survey have a more negative view of their Peace Corps service than those who did.19 Given the pervasively mediocre and negative responses we have from those who did complete the survey, this is a distressing inference.

The survey results are tabulated worldwide and country-by-country; the authors have access to both tabulations and reported both here. The country-by-country results are especially valuable for identifying the opportunities for reform. For example, the survey includes questions about the support provided by Country Directors and other Peace Corps managers to the Volunteers, as well as the adequacy of training, site preparation, medical and security support. Also included are questions about which program in which the respondent serves, so it’s easy to focus on the design and impact of programs country-by-country. This data can be compared to that about the ET rates of Volunteers country-by-country and program-by-program. It can be compared to the reviews of Volunteers in 360 degree reviews—a survey methodology described below. In short, if the Peace Corps is committed to listening to, respecting and empowering Volunteers and to instituting a continuous process of reform, it has ample data about where to focus its efforts and how to evaluate the performance of its personnel.

In reporting the survey results on a country-by-country basis, the authors are well aware of the admonition in the Peace Corps Handbook that Volunteers be "aware of, and remain sensitive to, the impact personal comments may have on themselves, their co-workers, Peace Corps and the United States." Though we are no longer Volunteers, we will honor this admonition to the extent that it is consistent with holding Peace Corps officials accountable for their management of the Volunteers. In the end, the cause of Peace Corps reform trumps the personal interests of government employees to shield themselves from public scrutiny. In our point of view, we emphatically side with the Volunteer. We have no sympathy for Peace Corps managers who fail to listen to, respect, and empower Volunteers; who fail to design programs and training that give Volunteers a reasonable opportunity to achieve sustainable results; who fail to effectively prepare sites and recruit counterparts; who fail to provide effective technical and financial support; and who violate Volunteer rights. So, we publish here the Volunteer responses to this question on a country-by-country basis, including the question that focuses on the performance of individual Country Directors.

On the positive side, the worldwide results have the Volunteers reporting the following:

* They find their overall Peace Corps service “personally satisfying”20: 25% say it is “exceptionally” personally rewarding; 45%, “considerably;” 24%, “moderately;” 5%, “minimally;” and 1%, “not at all”;

* “Today” they would make the “same decision” to join the Peace Corps21: 58% say “definitely,” 25%, “probably,” 11%, “possibly,” 4%, “not likely,” and 2%, “no”;

* They would “recommend Peace Corps service to others [they] think are qualified”22: 58% say “definitely,” 25%, “probably,” 14%, “possibly,” 2%, “not likely,” and 1%, “no”.

* They say that the Peace Corps experience “matches their expectations23: 9% say “exceptionally”; 27%, “considerably”; 38%, “moderately”; 19%, “minimally;” and 7%, “not at all.”

* They are well integrated into their community24 (27% say “very well” and 38%, “well”) and communicate effectively in the “language used by most people” in their community25 (18% say “very well” and 30%, “well”).

These positive responses are the only survey results that the Peace Corps tends to publish.

Analyzing the “personally satisfying” question country by country, we find that the top ranked programs are 1. Cambodia; 2. Kiribati; 3. Cape Verde; 4. Lesotho; 5. Kenya; 6. Peru; 7. Tanzania; 8. Belize and China (tied); and 10. Vanuatu. The bottom ranked programs are 58. Jamaica; 59. Romania; 61. Bulgaria; 62. Thailand; 63. Samoa; 64. Jordan; 65. Swaziland; 66. Ethiopia; and 67. Surinam. See /H2

Analyzing the “make same decision” question country-by-country, we find that the top ranked countries are 1. Cambodia; 2. Lesotho; 3. Cape Verde and Kenya; 5. Costa Rica; 6. Peru; 7. Mongolia; 8. Zambia; and 9. Belize. The lowest rankings are for 57. Philippines; 58. Samoa; 59. Mauritania; 60. Caribbean, Eastern; 61. Kyrgyz Republic; 62. Jamaica; 63. Thailand; 64. Swaziland; 65. Jordan; 66. Ethiopia; and 67. Surinam. /H3

Analyzing the “recommend to others” question country-by-country, we find that the top ranked countries are 1. Cambodia; 2. Cape Verde; 3. Kenya; 4. Belize; 5. China and Lesotho; 7. Guatemala and Macedonia; 9. Mozambique; and 10. Malawi and Panama. The bottom rankings go to 58. Togo; 59. Guyana; 60. Fiji; 61. Thailand; 62. Samoa; 63. Jamaica; 64. Swaziland; 65. Ethiopia; 66. Jordan; and 67. Surinam. /H4

The tone and substance of the Volunteers’ responses shift dramatically when they are asked if their Peace Corps experiences “match the expectations [they] had before [they] became a Volunteer.”26 Here, only 9% say “exceptionally”; 27%, “considerably”; 38%, “moderately”; 19%, “minimally”; and 7%, “not at all.”

Analyzing the “match expectations question” country-by-country, we find that the top ranked countries are 1. Kiribati; 2. Guinea; 3. Cambodia; 4. Kenya; 5. Panama; 6. Mali, Mauritania and Senegal; 9. Burkina Faso; and 10. Peru. The bottom rankings go to 58. Bulgaria; 59. Turkmenistan; 60. Fiji; 61. Swaziland; 62. Moldova; 63. Albania; 64. Ethiopia; 65. Jordan; 66. Jamaica; and 67. Surinam. /H6

Of greatest interest to the pending debate in the Congress over reforming and expanding the Peace Corps, when Volunteers are asked how “your host country [would] benefit the most”27 46% reply if the Peace Corps program was“refocused/redesigned.”Another 25% state that the host country would benefit most if the program were “maintained as is.” Only 20% say that program would benefit most if it were “expanded.” 6% say the best approach is to “reduce” the program and 4% say the best approach is to “discontinue” the program.

Some of the Volunteers who support expanding the Peace Corps program may also support a “refocused/redesigned” Peace Corps, so the consensus about the need for reform rather than expansion is clear and unambiguous. This means that the views of the Volunteers are fundamentally inconsistent with the campaign to rapidly expand the Peace Corps.

Analyzing this question on a country-by-country basis, the Volunteers in some countries enthusiastically support expansion. The greatest support for expansion comes in Guinea (59%), Mexico and Peru (55%), Mozambique (51%), Kiribati (50%), Armenia (48%), Tanzania (47%), Madagascar (45%), China and Zambia (44%), and Azerbaijan (40%). In other countries there is very little support for expansion: only 3% support expansion in Surinam, The Gambia, and Macedonia; 4% in Benin and Samoa; 5% in Jamaica and Romania; 6% in the Eastern Caribbean; 7% in Bulgaria; Cape Verde and Togo; 8% in Ghana and Ukraine; and 9% in Botswana, Fiji, Moldova and Morocco. If the Peace Corps is listening to and respecting Volunteers, it will expand its program only in the countries where the Volunteers support expansion.

In terms of discontinuing programs, the Volunteers are equally decisive. Some 45% of the Volunteers in Togo support reducing or terminating the program; 40% in Jamaica; 38% in The Gambia; 35% in Samoa; 24% in Macedonia; 25% in Surinam (all for termination); and 21% in Ukraine. If the Peace Corps is listening to and respecting Volunteers, it will consider reducing or terminating these programs.

In many countries the overwhelming majority of the Volunteers support refocusing and redesigning the programs: 74% in Jordan; 73% in Ethiopia; 72% in Benin; 71% in Romania; 69% in Surinam; 68% in Botswana; 67% in Niger; 64% in Fiji, Guyana, and Cape Verde; 63% in Bulgaria and Moldova; 62% in Cambodia; 61% in Samoa and Tonga; 60% in Eastern Caribbean; 57% in Senegal and Turkmenistan; 56% in Cameroon, Ghana and Thailand; 55% in Morocco and South Africa; and 47% in China. Clearly, an investigation is needed in these countries to determine why so many Volunteers recommend that the program be refocused and redesigned.

In only a few countries do Volunteers support maintaining a program “as is.” These include 49% in Micronesia; 47% in Zambia; 43% in Panama; 41% in Paraguay; 40% in Vanuatu; 34% in Guatemala; 34% in Mali and Malawi; 33% in Ecuador, Dominican Republican, and Belize; 33% in Armenia and Bolivia; 32% in Costa Rica; 31% in Ghana, El Salvador and Albania; and 30% in Nicaragua.

Unfortunately, it appears that the Peace Corps has not followed up or asked open-ended questions to determine why so many Volunteers support a “refocused/redesigned” Peace Corps and so few support an expanded one. The Volunteer responses to this question are the most tantalizing in the survey and the most significant, given the current political agenda of some Members of Congress and RPCVs to rapidly expand the number of Volunteers. The priority of the authors is the same as that of the Volunteers—making reform the top priority.

In this survey the Peace Corps asks whether Volunteers “intend to complete” their service as Volunteers (or early terminate—ET). As mentioned above, the responses to this question raise fundamental questions about which Volunteers completed the survey. The survey finds that 2% of the Volunteers say that will not complete their service; 4% are not sure; 75% will complete their service; and 19% “might extend.” Given that the Peace Corps suffers from a 35% ET rate, six times the ET rate implied by these responses, it appears clear that the respondents to this survey do not include a representative sampling of the most dissatisfied Volunteers. If it had, the survey results would have been decidedly more negative.

Analyzing the responses on a country-by-country basis, the highest ratings for “might extend” are found for Volunteers in Cambodia, 46%; Dominican Republic 41%; Paraguay 38%; Madagascar 37%; Cape Verde 34%; Malawi 33%; Panama 31%; Tonga 28%; Philippines 28%; Mexico 27%; Ghana and El Salvador, 26%; Macedonia, Namibia, and Senegal, 25%; Ecuador and Zambia, 24%; Kenya, Cameroon, Vanuatu, The Gambia, and Guinea, 23%; Lesotho, Niger, and Micronesia, 22%; Mali and Honduras, 21%; and Belize, Ukraine, and Burkina Faso, 20%.

The highest overall ratings to this question (weighting the four possible answers) are from Paraguay, Madagascar, Cape Verde, Dominican Republic, Malawi, Cambodia, Tonga, Philippines, Mexico, Namibia, Kenya, Ecuador, Lesotho, and Panama. The lowest overall ratings are in Ethiopia, Surinam, Jordan, Guyana, Samoa, Jamaica, Togo, Kyrgyz Republic, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, and Albania.

The remainder of the survey provides evocative information about why Volunteers are so positive about their service and so equivocal about the agency.

One especially illuminating question focuses on the extent to which Country Directors “interact with Volunteers to be aware of Volunteer issues and concerns” through training events, in-service conferences, site visits, Volunteer Advisory Committee meetings, and other informal interactions.28 Worldwide, the responses of the Volunteers to this question are evenly split between those who find this interaction positive (31% of the Volunteers say the Country Director interacts with the Volunteers in order to be aware and 20% say he/she does so “completely”) and those who don’t (30% say the interaction of the Country Director is “adequate,” 17% say it he or she does so “minimally,” and “2% say he or she does so “not at all”).

The country-by-country results regarding the Country Director question give us vital information about precisely where the successes and the problems lie. The survey was conducted in the summer of 2008, so they do not apply to any Country Director installed since then, and the survey question could have been better crafted.29 The results reveal a chasm between countries where the Country Directors are well regarded by the Volunteers and those where they are not. Presented below are the results (ranging from interacting “not at all,” “minimally,” “adequately,” “considerably,” and “completely), the average rating for each country30, and the ranking of that rating compared to the rating for Country Director in all other Peace Corps countries.31

One preliminary question relates to the use of the word “adequate” in the survey. The dictionary definitions of the word “adequate” include “sufficient,” “barely sufficient,” “fair to middling,” and “passable.” The meaning of the term in the biennial survey can be sensed when it’s compared to more positive terms used in the same survey questions: “effective” and “very effective,” and more negative ones: “poor” or “not effective.” It’s clear that when the Volunteers report that something is “adequate,” they lack enthusiasm for it. The authors believe that it’s fair to infer that they mean “mediocre.”32

Question E 11: The extent to which Country Directors “interact with Volunteers to be aware of Volunteer issues and concerns” through training events, in-service conferences, site visits, Volunteer Advisory Committee meetings, and other informal interactions (2008 Biennial Survey of Peace Corps Volunteers)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not At All

Minimally

Adequately

Substantially

Completely

Total

Score

Rank

Romania

2

5

18

68

93

4.32

1

Botswana

1

4

13

26

44

4.23

2

Lesotho

1

5

11

23

40

4.20

3

Guinea

3

7

11

21

4.19

4

Moldova

1

2

11

31

52

97

4.20

5

Vanuatu

1

1

12

12

26

4.17

6

Mauritania

1

1

3

10

18

33

4.22

7

Senegal

1

10

21

30

62

4.15

8

Micronesia

1

1

6

18

26

52

4.18

9

Dominican Republic

2

3

16

48

44

113

4.11

10

Kenya

1

5

10

10

26

4.06

11

Zambia

8

32

56

61

157

4.04

12

Turkmenistan

1

11

29

14

55

4.01

13

Fiji

2

3

11

6

22

3.98

14

The Gambia

2

6

14

42

27

91

4.02

15

Georgia

8

8

16

19

51

3.95

16

Armenia

1

3

10

21

13

48

3.98

17

Malawi

1

12

32

6

51

3.92

18

Kyrg Republic

5

12

16

14

47

3.91

19

Thailand

4

6

22

40

28

100

3.99

20

Nicaragua

10

23

30

23

86

3.88

21

Burkina Faso

2

22

31

9

64

3.87

22

Paraguay

5

23

27

14

69

3.86

23

South Africa

4

20

19

12

55

3.85

24

Mali

1

5

16

23

11

56

3.87

25

Ghana

1

3

11

18

7

40

3.89

26

Eastern Caribbean

1

11

25

29

17

83

3.82

27

Kazakhstan

3

5

43

45

12

108

3.82

28

Tonga

3

5

6

3

17

3.76

29

Cape Verde

3

14

9

5

31

3.76

30

Belize

1

5

13

21

4

44

3.79

31

China

6

27

20

8

61

3.75

32

Guatemala

9

35

32

9

85

3.74

33

Panama

2

14

33

42

12

103

3.77

34

Swaziland

1

5

6

8

5

25

3.80

35

Mexico

1

7

14

16

6

44

3.76

36

Togo

5

18

16

3

42

3.70

37

Costa Rica

7

37

20

8

72

3.70

38

Madagascar

1

9

22

19

6

57

3.71

39

Peru

3

19

27

22

15

86

3.72

40

Honduras

2

14

32

26

9

83

3.70

41

Cambodia

1

1

5

5

1

13

3.80

42

Jamaica

3

12

20

15

10

60

3.74

43

Albania

1

8

10

11

4

34

3.69

44

Kiribati

1

4

3

8

3.63

45

Samoa

1

7

11

9

4

32

3.68

46

Philippines

1

10

21

17

4

53

3.66

47

Namibia

1

16

19

17

6

59

3.62

48

Bulgaria

1

22

28

26

5

82

3.60

49

Ukraine

5

41

61

45

14

166

3.62

50

Niger

8

11

6

2

27

3.54

51

Bolivia

3

28

45

27

7

110

3.58

52

Macedonia

15

28

14

2

59

3.53

53

Azerbaijan

2

15

26

11

5

59

3.58

54

Tanzania

5

11

17

18

1

52

3.67

55

Benin

3

22

26

14

6

71

3.56

56

Cameroon

1

26

35

14

3

79

3.47

57

Morocco

5

45

54

23

8

135

3.51

58

Mongolia

4

19

23

11

3

60

3.53

59

Ethiopia

11

6

3

2

22

3.41

60

Suriname

5

13

8

8

2

36

3.60

61

Ecuador

4

19

17

7

2

49

3.48

62

Uganda

2

39

27

11

1

80

3.35

63

Mozambique

4

19

21

6

50

3.43

64

Guyana

2

8

9

2

21

3.43

65

El Salvador

10

26

22

5

2

65

3.48

66

Jordan

6

28

5

3

2

44

3.35

67

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