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Note: This document is from the archive of the Africa Policy E-Journal, published by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC) from 1995 to 2001 and by Africa Action from 2001 to 2003. APIC was merged into Africa Action in 2001. Please note that many outdated links in this archived document may not work.

APIC: List Survey Report

APIC: List Survey Report
Date distributed (ymd): 990919
APIC Document

+++++++++++++++++++++Document Profile+++++++++++++++++++++

Summary Contents:
This posting contains a summary of the results from the July 1999 survey of the Africa Policy Electronic Distribution List readers,as well as comparisions with surveys in previous years. Reports from previous years available on the web include:, and
Results from 1998 were not presented in a separate report, but are included here where appropriate for comparison.

+++++++++++++++++end profile++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Africa Policy Electronic Distribution List
Reader Survey Analysis, 1999 Survey

September, 1999

Introductory Note and Summary

Each year in July, for the last four years, we have surveyed our readers to obtain a picture of who you are and what you think of this electronic publication. As you can see below, the results are remarkably consistent from year to year.

According to the responses, 72% of you now live in North America, 12% of you in Africa, and the rest elsewhere. Over 21% of you were born in Africa. Over 80% were born in, have worked in or visited the African continent. Three-quarters of you have advanced degrees.

On average, you rate the documents we post as "very good" or "good," and read four out of ten carefully. Again, averaging in those of you who pass on our material to many others and those who just use it for yourself, each document is passed on to 3.5 people in addition to the 2600 addresses on the list.

Of those of you living outside the African continent, almost half say you are actively or somewhat involved with a local organization working on African issues. Seventy-five percent say you are an active member or a supporter of a national organization working on African issues.

Read on for more details.

Survey distribution and response

A 30-question survey was distributed by e-mail on July 5, 1999 to the 2601 addresses on the list as of that date. By September 15, 1999, 448 completed surveys were received from respondents on the list, as well as 22 from respondents receiving the postings indirectly. [Note: in 1996 the survey was reposted by several listservs which normally repost distribution list material; in subsequent years this was not the case, responses for 1997-1999 came almost entirely from readers receiving the list directly.]

There is no conclusive way of determining if the respondents are representative of all recipients, including those who did not respond to the survey. A detailed study of the 1996 survey, however, indicated that respondents are not likely to differ in major ways from non-respondents on most questions, with the important exception of how likely they are to redistribute documents they receive.

List Growth

The net growth of the number of addresses on the list has been steady, as shown by Table 1, which shows total number of addresses on the list by six-month intervals.

Table 1: List Growth

[Note: this and following tables best read in non-proportional font such as Courier.]

Month               End of month total
December 1994            189
June 1995                688
December 1995            865
June 1996               1167
December 1996           1401
June 1997               1569
December 1997           1745
June 1998               2202
December 1998           2344
June 1999               2601

Country of Residence

Table 2: Countries with more than 1% of respondents

[Note: In this and following tables, totals may be less than 470 because of missing responses to particular questions.]

COUNTRY                        NUMBER      PERCENT

USA                            309          67.9%
UK                              21           4.6%
Canada                          19           4.2%
South Africa                    14           3.1%
Kenya                            8           1.8%
Netherlands                      8           1.8%
Australia                        7           1.5%
Mozambique                       7           1.5%
Denmark                          5           1.1%
Zimbabwe                         5           1.1%

Other countries                 52          11.4%

Total:                         455           100%

In 1999 other countries represented among survey respondents were Angola, Belgium, Bosnia, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Cote d'Ivoire, Eritrea, Ethiopia, France, Germany, Ireland, Mexico, Namibia, Nigeria, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Tanzania, Trinidad, Uganda, and Zambia. Countries represented among respondents in previous year surveys also included Botswana, Congo (Kinshasa), Croatia, Egypt, Ghana, Italy, Japan, Lithuania, New Zealand, Peru, Senegal and U.A.E. This is an incomplete list of countries of recipients, since a total of at least 24 African countries and 35 non-African countries can be identified by the domain codes on the e-mail addresses on the list.

The distribution by country and continent has been fairly consistent from year to year, with the exception of a modest decrease in the percentage in North America and increase in the percentage in Africa.

Table 3: Continent of residence (percent of respondents)

     North America  Africa    Europe    Other

1996      76.3%       7.2%     12.9%     3.6%
1997      70.4%      10.9%     15.4%     3.2%
1998      76.7%       9.3%     12.8%     1.3%
1999      72.3%      12.5%     13.2%     2.0%

Respondents resident in Africa were almost evenly divided between those born in Africa and expatriates from other continents (for example,in 1999 respondents with mailing addresses in Africa included 29 born in Africa and 28 not born in Africa).

Connections with Africa (other than current residence)

The percentage of respondents born in Africa (or with a parent born in Africa) was 21.1% in 1999, showing insignificant change from previous year's results: 19.2% in 1996, 21.3% in 1997, 19.8% in 1998. A new question in 1999 showed an additional 5.1% not born in Africa but having a spouse or inlaw born in Africa.

Within the USA, an additional 16.3% of respondents not born in Africa identified themselves as African-American. This is slightly greater than in previous years, when the question was worded as "diaspora" rather than the more explanatory "African-American or other African diaspora community." In all, of those respondents resident in the USA, 30% were either born in Africa or African-American.

Including respondents who have worked in Africa or visited the continent, as well as those born there, the percentage of respondents rises to 80.6% (84.3% in 1998, 82.8% in 1997 and 77.5% in 1996). It is clear that most readers of the distribution list have multiple connections with the continent and a high level of interest.

Other Demographic Characteristics

Of respondents returning the survey in 1999, 44% were female, no significant difference from the 43% in 1998, but an increase over the 1996 (33%) and 1997 (37%) percentages.

The largest age group in 1999, as in previous years, was from 36 to 50 (41% of respondents). Of the remainder, half were 35 and under, and half were over 50. In 1999, as in previous years, three-fourths of the respondents said they had advanced degrees, while most of the rest had undergraduate college degrees.

Institutional sectors represented were also very similar to previous years, with 43% reporting primary affiliation with an educational institution, 21% primary affiliation with a secular non-governmental organization, followed by religious institutions (12%), government (8%), business (7%), other (6%) and media (3%).

In 1999, 32% of respondents resident outside Africa said they were actively involved in a local organization working on African issues, while an additional 17% said they were "somewhat" involved. The comparable percentages in 1998, the first year the question was asked, were 31% and 15%.

In 1999, 33% of respondents resident outside Africa said they were active members of a national organization working on African issues, while an additional 42% said they were "supporters" of such an organization. To the nearest percentage point, the results were exactly the same in 1998.

Web Access

The percentage of respondents saying they had access to the web rose modestly from 85% in 1996 to 93% in 1999. A similar pattern applied to respondents living in Africa (from 77% in 1996 to 88% in 1999).

A new question asked in 1998 and 1999 revealed that even those who have web access have a clear preference for receiving information by e-mail rather than through the web. In each year over 75% of those who said they had access to the web reported visiting the Africa Policy web site never or less than once a month.

Opinions about Documents

In 1999 respondents on average rated the quality of documents as between "good" and "very good," as in previous years. The percent saying documents were generally "very good" rose from 45% in 1996 to 55% in 1999.

In 1999, 90% of respondents agreed the frequency of documents was "about right," little changed from the 88% and 89% recorded in previous surveys. The dissenters were split between those wanting less frequent documents and those wanting more.

A smaller, but still substantial, majority of 79% agreed that the length of documents was "about right" (81% agreed in 1997 and 1998, 76% in 1996). Among the other 21%, most wanted shorter documents.

How respondents used documents was also very consistent from year to year. Out of every 10 documents, on average respondents discarded 1.5, skimmed four, read four carefully, archived four, and used one (1996) to 1.5 (1999) in teaching or public education. The average number redistributing documents and the number they sent them to has increased for each year of the survey. On average, each document reached 2.1 additional people for each respondent in 1996, 2.5 additional people in 1997, 2.7 additional people in 1998 and 3.5 additional people in 1999.

More detailed studies of the 1996 and 1997 surveys showed that those who responded to the survey quickly were more likely (than those who responded slowly) to redistribute documents (and, by hypothesis, those who do not return the survey are even less likely to redistribute documents). In some cases, however, the redistribution process goes even further, with indirect recipients in turn passing it on to others. The use of the multiplier in the previous paragraph, while crude, therefore makes it possible to calculate a rough estimate of the growth of the number of readers of an average document on the list.

This would give estimates of total readership as approximately 3,600 for June 1996, 5,500 for June 1997, 8,150 for June 1998, and 11,700 for June 1999.


As in previous years, the generally positive impression given by survey answers was confirmed by the additional comments volunteered by some respondents. Most of the 140 comments received were variations on "good job," "good work," and "thanks."

The most common request for improvement was for "more" material on different topics, on countries or regions we are weak on (such as most of the Francophone countries). For those of you who made such requests, we will try to be responsive. However, in order to do so, we need your help, and that of your fellow readers.

The selection of postings is determined in part by our judgement of the importance of different issues. For example, recently we have given priority to documents on HIV/AIDS and other issues in African health, on debt, trade and development strategy, and on conflict and peace efforts in crisis areas in different parts of the continent. We are always seeking relevant documents that are sensitive to the importance of gender. We try to focus on topical issues with wide relevance around the continent, and on issues for which the need for response by the "international community" is being debated.

Our selection is also limited, of course, by your overwhelming consensus that the frequency and length of documents is now "about right." Increasing the frequency or length of postings is therefore not an option. For those who do want more, we do our best to refer you to other sources with more frequent information.

This still leaves us quite a bit of room for improvement, in terms of a better and more varied selection. But another fundamental constraint is the pool from which we draw. While some of you say you rely on us for news, we are not a news organization, and we have no staff or offices outside Washington. We do search out documents to repost as we are able, but for the most part we rely on those that are sent to us or called to our attention. Like many of you, we do not have much free time to "surf the web." If a document is not sent to us, it may well escape our attention.

So please help us fill our gaps. We seek critical, analytical policy or policy advocacy documents in the public domain in electronic form. We are, of course, particularly interested in increasing the proportion of documents coming directly from African sources.

If we receive material on a relevant topic that:

(1) has already been published or distributed by an organization, and is thus available for "reposting,"
(2) is in the public domain, or authorized for redistribution by the author/originating organization (we do not distribute copyrighted material without permission),
(3) is from a reputable source, to which we can refer people for further information (we must have organizational contact information to supply our readers so that they can contact the original source),
(4)is relatively short (a text file less than 20K, or less than 2500 words; preferably shorter),
(5) is readable, including general background for those who are not specialists in the particular issue or country (some documents we receive assume that readers already know the background, and thus are not appropriate for our list),
(6) is timely (i.e., within the last few months),
(7) is already in electronic format, so that we don't have to retype or scan it, and
(8) is sent to us as a text file or as a reference to an accessible web location, NOT as an attached document which we have to convert,

then the chances of the document showing up through our list are significantly increased. In cases where we do not receive such information, or have it called to our attention, important issues or countries are less likely to show up among our reposted documents.

If you already provide documents that are on occasion reposted by us, consider shortening your documents slightly. That will enable us to satisfy those among our readers who want shorter documents without investing the extra time to abridge or excerpt what you send us.

We welcome for our information documents in French or Portuguese as well as in English. However, the likelihood of reposting depends on allocating staff time for translation, which we are able to do only in exceptional circumstances.

We cannot, of course, guarantee to repost all documents sent to us. The wider the pool, however, the greater the chances for further improving the range and quality of documents on the list. We also try when possible to give references to documents which because of length or other constraints we cannot redistribute through the list. If a document is available on the Web, we can sometimes work in a reference in another posting even if we cannot repost the document itself.

In conclusion, we want to extend our appreciation to all of you who returned the survey. We hope you find the results interesting.

Survey report prepared by William Minter, Senior Research Fellow. Please send comments or inquiries on survey methodology to Information on on-line resources APIC should be aware of or suggestions for reposting should be sent to

This material is produced and distributed by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC). APIC's primary objective is to widen the policy debate in the United States around African issues and the U.S. role in Africa, by providing accessible policy-relevant information and analysis usable by a wide range of groups and individuals.

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