Photography by:
  • Clive Hassall

Towards a 'Quality of Economy' survey

This project emerged from two quarters simultaneously.

First, in early 2016, GCRO identified the need to devote more research attention to the regional economy, and to build relations with others (academics, government officials, and applied researchers in other institutions) working on urban economic development issues. On 10 May 2016, GCRO, working together with Prof. Ivan Turok from the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), convened a group of researchers on key issues and opportunities for research in the area of 'city-region economics'. Subsequent to the workshop Prof. Turok drafted a concept note for how the project could be taken forward (download here). The note was subsequently shared with a variety of specialists and stakeholders to build momentum around a 'city-region economies' consortium and programme of research. The ideas were presented to a number of key stakeholders, including to the National Treasury and the Economies of Regions Learning Network (ERLN) Data Technical Working Group, both in November 2016, as well as key representatives of the Gauteng Department of Economic Development (GDED) in August 2017. The original group of researchers and specialists, as well as others, were also subsequently convened again in March 2017 and November 2018.

Second, in July 2016 the results of the Quality of Life Survey IV (2015/16) were presented to the leadership of GDED and its various agencies. At the session the then MEC for Economic Development asked GCRO to assist with the running of a 'cost of doing business survey', responsibility for which had been allocated to the Gauteng Growth and Development Agency (GGDA). Over the second half of 2016 and into early 2017 GCRO and GGDA worked to clarify the parameters of the proposed survey. A key constraint identified early in the discussions was that any survey of businesses - especially one that sought to be 'representative' - needed a register of businesses from which to draw an appropriate sample. No such register existed, certainly none that had geocoded addresses for businesses, contact details for representatives, an indication of standard industrial classification at lower levels of the SIC codes, and also covered formal and informal enterprises.

Setting parameters

Through this preliminary stage of setting parameters, a number of decisions were made:

  1. In the same way as the Quality of Life Survey had started small in 2009 (with some 6000 respondents) and grown significantly over subsequent iterations, any 'firm-level survey' needed to start small and then expand over time, becoming a regularly repeated undertaking with larger and larger number of respondents.
  2. The development of a geo-coded business register would require several years of concerted effort, ideally in partnership with other bodies looking at the issue, notably the City Support Programme and ERLN. In the absence of a business register the only available universe to draw a sample from was the GCRO's own Quality of Life Survey. QoL IV (2015/16) had asked respondents whether they owned a business or had previously owned a business. Contact numbers for many of these respondents were available.
  3. The actual work should not be done by GCRO alone (GCRO in any event did not have the in-house capacity to run a major new survey on top of QoL). This should not proceed along the lines of a client / contractor relationship, with GGDA being the client and GCRO the contractor. Rather the work should be done in full collaboration, with joint contributions to the level of effort, and mutual learning throughout.
  4. The undertaking should materially contribute to building the city-region economies consortium and programme of research, with other interested parties also playing a role. In early 2017 GCRO and GGDA hosted a workshop with the participation of the HSRC, and UJ's Centre for Competition, Regulation and Economic Development (CCRED). The HSRC expressed interest in doing an exploratory scan, and subsequent survey of Gauteng's 'knowledge intensive tradeable services sector' - businesses in sectors like engineering, law, finance and consulting that sold services (not goods) outside South Africa, and in particular in fast growing African countries and cities. CCRED was willing to expand work that it had done in Johannesburg the year before, namely a census of all businesses operating in designated industrial areas, followed by an online survey and detailed qualitative interviews. Discussions were also held with the Gauteng Premier's Office Tshepo 1 million initiative on expanding an audit they had done of all business in nine townships in early 2017 to other townships in the city-region. However, this aspect was not taken forward because of cost.
  5. Lastly, it was decided that each of the work programmes, to be led separately by GCRO, HSRC and CCRED, should proceed through two phases, the first a preliminary or piloting phase that would lay the groundwork for the second phase of full-implementation.

A detailed proposal was drawn up (see a summary version here) and in mid-2017 GGDA transferred R1 million to GCRO (R877 000 after VAT). In the spirit of partnership GCRO allocated R500 000 from its own 2017/18 budget.

GCRO QoL based survey

Over the course of 2017/18 and 2018/19 GCRO implemented the QoL business-respondent based survey.

Over mid- to late-2017 GCRO ran a competitive tender process to bring on board a suitable fieldwork house who could undertake the data collection. Reputable survey firm Plus94 was selected and contracted.

Through mid- to late-2017 and early 2018 GCRO worked with GGDA on developing the questionnaire. It was decided that two surveys would be conducted to pilot the initiative.

  • A larger sample of telephonic interviews would be conducted with with up to 500 respondents who had identified themselves as current business owners in QoL, or who had said they used to own a business. Since this was a telephonic interview the questionnaire needed to be short.
  • A smaller sample of face-to-face interviews with up to 100 respondents, all of whom would be current business owners. On the request of GGDA these would be specially selected to be owners or larger business. Since this was to be a face-to-face interview the questionnaire could be longer than those for the telephonic survey.

Questionnaire development happened in stages. Two workshops, one on 12 September 2017 and the second on 19 October 2017, generated a draft of the questionnaire which was signed off by GGDA in early December 2017. However, this version of the questionnaire had over 300 questions, and Plus94 indicated that it would need significant pruning before it could be programmed for a 25 minute (max) telephonic interview and 45 minute face-to-face interview.

Scaling down and sharpening of the questionnaire continued until March 2018. The final face-to-face instrument was settled at 252 questions, while that for the telephonic survey was 127 questions, mainly focused on cost of doing business issues.

The questionnaire was subsequently coded onto Plus94's telephonic interviewing platform, and tablets for the face-to-face surveys. This was followed by checking of the on-device questions and skips; programming of a past-tense version of the questionnaire for previous business owners; development and refinement of the opening respondent-recruitment logic pattern; problem solving on selected questions requiring dropdown menus of place names; piloting; and training of call-centre and field staff.

Over March and April 2018 GCRO finalized a sampling strategy to select which businesses in the Quality of Life survey dataset would be targeted for the full 100 face-to-face full survey. The 2015/16 QoL dataset had 1 572 respondents who said they are currently the owner of a business, who said they were willing to participate in future surveys, and who had given contact details. This list was sifted to arrive at 342 candidates for the face-to-face interviews, generally those with more than 5 employees; where the respondent had indicated higher income bands; had been in existence for longer periods of time; and whose source of start-up capital was from more formal means such as loans or profits from other businesses. Most of these respondents self-identified their business as ‘formal’ although there are some informal businesses in the list.

The sample for shorter telephonic questionnaire was drawn from the remainder of the current business-owners on the QoL IV data-set, 1 230, as well as 1 766 respondents who said they had previously been a business owner.

The surveys started in mid-2018. Within a very short period of time the candidate lists of potential respondents were exhausted, with the target numbers far from being reached. While it was always anticipated that the passing of time between 2015/16 and 2018 might mean that response rates would be fairly low, a lack of contractibility of the candidate respondents supplied by GCRO from QoL IV became a binding constraint. Some of the sampled business owners were reached, but refused to participate, but a much bigger obstacle was cell phone numbers that went permanently unanswered or went straight to voice-mail, even after multiple attempts. Only 15 face-to-face interviews and 146 telephonic interviews could be completed with the contact lists provided.

In late-July 2018, GCRO reached the decision that the only way to solve the problem would be to supply Plus94 with additional contacts, drawn from QoL V (2017/18), at that time still in the process of being completed. As in QoL IV, QoL V respondents were asked whether the owned, or had once been owners of a business. If so, they had been asked more explicitly whether they would be willing to participate in a follow-up survey about their business. It was hoped that this more recent sample would boost the numbers considerably. GCRO gave Plus94 a further list of 313 contacts for face-to-face interviews; and contacts for potential telephonic interviews with 892 current owners and 1 440 previous business owners. With these additional lists in hand, Plus94 made progress over August and early September, to realize a final sample of 412 interviews:

  • 46 longer face-to-face interviews (252 questions) with larger and more established current business owners
  • 366 shorter telephonic interviews (127 questions) with current and past business owners.

The survey data was provided to GCRO in .spss format, checked and revised. In early September 2018, GCRO was able to draw a preliminary 20 page report on the provisional results, and present these first to the GGDA's Board Trade and Investment Committee, and then to the full Board on 12 September 2018. The same presentation was given to other fora in late 2018 and early 2019, including a GDED/GGDA investors' breakfast on 20 February 2019.

Further analysis of the data followed in early 2018, and a revised and significantly enlarged presentation was done to the GDED Executive Management Team on 28 February 2019, followed by the GGDA Exco on 11 March 2019. Based on comments received at these two engagements the analysis was further deepened over March and April 2019, and a further iteration of the presentation was done to the GGDA's Board Trade and Investment Committee and the GDED Senior Management Team in late April 2019, and ultimately the full GGDA Board on 27 June 2019.

The results from the survey, while based on a reasonably small number of interview, offer some interesting insights, and these are currently being written up in the form of a GCRO Occasional Paper.

HSRC scan of Gauteng's knowledge intensive tradeable services sector

This component of the work was led by the HSRC's Prof. Ivan Turok and Dr. Justin Visagie. Over 2017 and early 2018 they undertook an analysis of relevant secondary datasets to shed light on the significance of tradable services in Gauteng. The most useful sources proved to be the Quarterly Labour Force Survey (for the structure and occupation of employment in services) and international trade data from the WTO-UNCTAD-ITC trade in services dataset. This data was interrogated and analysed, and an initial paper written to interpret the findings. This was subsequently published in a Springer book, released May 2019.

A variety of professional councils were approached for baseline data on their members in order to lay a foundation for the surveying work. All expressed their willingness to participate in the research and agreed to facilitate the distribution of a survey questionnaire to their members via their email databases. Some also shared statistical reports they had recently undertaken. All bodies had basic demographic information on their professional membership and some (such as legal profession) had very detailed professional, earnings, equity, R&D and business climate information – although these were generally national aggregates. This preliminary data collection enabled HSRC to create a descriptive baseline to complement the service export trade data and Labour Force Survey data.

A total of 17 interviews (mostly face-to-face) were completed using a semi-structured approach covering a broad range of stakeholders, including industry councils and regulatory bodies as well as CEO’s and business leaders from the marketing, legal, financial, engineering, architecture and IT sectors. The interviews were transcribed and analysed using Atlas software.

The results of this analysis were written up in a full report and submitted to GCRO, and in turn GGDA, in June 2018. The findings from the paper were also presented to the GGDA Board on 12 September 2018.

CCRED census of manufacturing areas across Gauteng

Unfortunately the component led by the Centre for Competition, Regulation and Economic Development (CCRED), namely an initial census of establishments operating in 10 industrial areas around Gauteng, got off to a slow start. A large part of the reason for this was contracting delays, occasioned by repeated issues raised by UJ's Legal Office. The work got underway in late 2018 with the initial designation of industrial areas that would be targeted. The census work is currently being done.

Outputs

Papers and publications

Turok, I. and Visagie, J. (2019). 'Tradable Services, Value Chains and the Gauteng Economy'. In Scholvin, S. Black, A. Revilla Diez, J. and Turok, I. (eds). Value Chains in Sub-Saharan Africa: Challenges of Integration into the Global Economy. Springer Advances in African Economic, Social and Political Development book series (AAESPD). pp. 253-275. May 2019.

Turok, I. and Visagie, J. (2018). The Performance of tradable services in the Gauteng Province. June 2018.

Gotz, G. and Bryer, M. (2018). Firm-survey on GCRO’s Quality of Life Survey business respondents: preliminary results. September 2018.

Selected presentations

Graeme Gotz (June 2019). 'Towards a Quality of Economy Survey'. Gauteng Growth and Development Agency (GGDA) Board strategy session, 27 June 2019.

Rob Moore (April 2019) ‘Quality of Economy Survey – Phase 1 Results 2018/19’, GGDA Board sub-committee on Trade and Investment, 25 April 2019.

Rob Moore (April 2019) ‘Quality of Economy Survey – Phase 1 Results 2018/19’, Gauteng Department of Economic Development Senior Management Team, 24 April 2019.

Graeme Gotz (March 2019). 'Quality of Economy Survey – Phase 1 results'. Gauteng Growth and Development Agency EXCO, 11 March 2019.

Rob Moore (February 2019). ‘Deepening evidence-informed economic development: next steps for GGDA-GCRO partnership', 'Gauteng Department of Economic Development Executive Management Team, 28 February 2019.

Graeme Gotz (February 2019). 'Quality of Economy Survey – Phase 1 results'. Gauteng Department of Economic Development Executive Management Team, 28 February 2019.

Graeme Gotz (February 2019). 'Quality of Economy Survey – Phase 1 results'. Gauteng Department of Economic Development and Gauteng Growth and Development Agency Business Breakfast, 20 February 2019.

Graeme Gotz (October 2018). 'Quality of economy survey pilot - preliminary results reporting'. Gauteng Growth and Development Agency (GGDA) Board, 12 September 2018.

Graeme Gotz (October 2018). 'Quality of economy survey pilot - preliminary results reporting'. Gauteng Growth and Development Agency (GGDA) Board Subcommittee on Trade and Investment, 7 September 2018.

Graeme Gotz (September 2017) 'GCRO & GDED / GGDA: An emerging data partnership', Gauteng Department of Economic Development (GDED) workshop on Transformative Data Partnerships. 15 September 2017.

Graeme Gotz (May 2017) Towards firm level surveying in Gauteng. Gauteng Department of Economic Development Data Seminar. Johannesburg, 30 May 2017

Graeme Gotz (May 2017) Towards firm level surveying in Gauteng. Economies of Regions Learning Network Data Technical Working Group. Pretoria, 25 May 2017

Last updated 16 August 2019

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