Selective Knowledge: Reporting Bias in Microfinance Data
Answering surveys is usually voluntary, yet much of our knowledge depends on the willingness of households and institutions to answer. In this study, we explore the implications of voluntary reporting on knowledge about microfinance. We show systematic biases in microfinance institutions' choices about which survey to respond to and which specific indicators to report. The analysis focuses on data for 2,072 microfinance institutions from MixMarket and the Microcredit Summit Campaign databases for the years 2004-2006. In general, we find that financial indicators are more often reported than social indicators. The patterns of reporting correlate with the institutions' region of operation, mission, and size. The patterns in turn affect analyses of key questions on trade-offs between financial and social goals in microfinance. For example, the relationship between operational self-sufficiency and the percentage of women borrowers is positive in the Microcredit Summit Campaign data but negative in the MixMarket data. The results highlight the conditional nature of our knowledge and the value of supporting social reporting.