Web technologies offer improved data collection for cohort study time diaries, research finds

24 September 2015

Almost 60 per cent of participants taking part in a pilot phase of the Millennium Cohort Study (MCS) opted to complete daily activity diaries using a smartphone app.

Three quarters of app submissions offered by the 14-year-old cohort members were of ‘good quality’, according to researchers, meaning that they didn’t feature large amounts of unreported activity time.

However, web-based time diaries, completed on computers, offered even better data collection with nine out of ten submissions being of ‘good quality’, compared to 65 per cent for hand-written paper reporting.

Lead author, Stella Chatzitheochari, University of Warwick, and her colleagues from Ipsos MORI, UCL Institute of Education and University of Oxford analysed the results of a pilot survey conducted with 51 young people, and a later dress rehearsal surveying 97.

“Overall, results demonstrate that the web and app modes yield better quality data than paper diaries across all diary domains. One of our initial concerns during the research design phase was the extent to which people in early adolescence would adequately engage with the time diary instruments to produce meaningful narratives without interviewer or parental help.

“The level of good quality diaries provide evidence that the instruments have actually been very successful, despite our concerns,” Chatzitheochari explains.

The time diary is completed by members of the MCS to give an overview of their daily lives, providing rich information on the participation, duration, location, timing and context of activities that are often neglected in survey questionnaires, such as socialising, sleeping and eating.

Information on cohort members’ daily lives will be particularly important for longitudinal analysis of well-being and health outcomes.

Participants are asked to complete two diaries, one on a weekday and one on a weekend day. Each diary covers 24 hours, starting at 4am in the morning of the selected day and finishing at 4am the next day.

During the current MCS age 14 survey, all cohort members in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, as well as approximately 85 per cent of the participants in England, will submit time-use diaries.

“Our research demonstrates the overall high quality of both the smartphone time-use app and the web diary. This study provides evidence for the potential contribution of new technologies towards reducing post-fieldwork costs and improving data quality in time-use surveys,” Chatzitheochari concludes.

Read the full paper
Measuring young people’s time-use in the UK Millennium Cohort Study: A mixed-mode time diary approach, by Stella Chatzitheochari, Kimberly Fisher, Emily Gilbert, Lisa Calderwood, Tom Huskinson, Andrew Cleary and Jonathan Gershuny is the latest working paper to be published by the UCL IOE’s Centre for Longitudinal Studies.

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