CLS chairs debate on the pros and cons of mixing modes in longitudinal surveys

26 November 2012

Should large-scale longitudinal surveys – like the cohort studies – embrace web-based tools alongside more traditional methods of data collection?

Leading methodologists met in London on November 19 to discuss the potential benefits and hazards of using different types of survey tools to collect data (i.e. ‘mixing modes’).

The debate, hosted by NatCen Social Research and chaired by Lisa Calderwood, Senior Survey Manager for the Centre for Longitudinal Studies (CLS), brought together a panel of experts: Dr Mick Couper of the Survey Research Centre at the University of Michigan, Professor Heather Laurie of the Institute of Social and Economic Research at the University of Essex, and Gerry Nicolaas of NatCen.

Lisa opened the debate by sharing CLS’s experience of incorporating web-based questionnaires into the upcoming age 55 survey of the 1958 National Child Development Study. For the first time, CLS will ask cohort members to complete a such a questionnaire, offering telephone interviews as an alternative for those who prefer not to complete the survey online.

While the move to the web is largely driven by potential cost savings, some also suggest that ‘mixing modes’ offers participants a choice in how they respond.

But major challenges remain, not least of which are the effects of different modes on measurement – the fact that some people answer questions differently online than face-to-face or by phone. This becomes particularly problematic when you have different people answering the same questions in different modes. At the same time, panellists reported that the impact on costs and response rates had been underwhelming in their experience.

Despite these challenges, the experts remained optimistic. The overriding opinion was that success is most likely to be achieved when surveys are designed specifically for mixed modes, rather than simply adapted from existing questionnaires. The panellists called for a collaborative approach across the survey research sector to advance mixed mode practice and debate, and to provide research funders with the information needed to make informed decisions.

Related work in this area:

NCRM Web Survey Network

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