With the 1996 Panel, computer-assisted interviewing (CAI) was introduced. SIPP interviewers began using a laptop computer to collect survey data.2 CAI presents a number of advantages over interviewing with a paper instrument, the method used in previous panels (Chapter 2 of the SIPP Users' Guide). Survey elements appear seamless to both the interviewer and the respondent. In addition, the CAI instrument makes certain decisions about which questions to ask, whom to ask, and so forth, that were once left to the discretion of the interviewer. CAI also allows much of the core content from prior waves to be referenced in each interview. The CAI instrument uses responses and complicated logic from one part of the interview in subsequent parts of the interview, which permits checking for consistency and accuracy in the data while the interviewer is still in contact with the household.
This chapter will associate the word core with items in the survey that remain constant from one wave to the next, and the word topical with items that do not appear in every wave. For both the CAI instrument and the pre-1996 paper survey, data gathered every time the survey is conducted are referred to as core content. The core questionnaire collects critical labor force, income, and program participation data and is repeated at each interview. Questions asked periodically and targeted to specific topics outside the range of the core content provide topical content and are referred to as topical modules.
Cooperative, available respondents 15 years of age and older answer questions for themselves, to the extent possible. While questionnaires are not completed for household members under age 15, information is collected about them so that household members under age 15 are fully represented in the SIPP sample. When necessary, information in the CAI instrument is used to determine the next best person in the household with whom a dependent or proxy interview should be conducted; that is often, but not always, the reference person (Chapter 2 of the SIPP Users' Guide).
Skip patterns within SIPP control which questions are asked of each respondent. Skip patterns tailor the questions to the circumstances of the respondent and bypass irrelevant questions. For example, if a respondent has already said that he or she did not work during the reference period, the skip pattern will prevent the interviewer from asking the person what kind of job was held during that time. The CAI instrument automatically calls up the next relevant question, making the skip patterns transparent to both interviewers and respondents. Before the introduction of CAI, interviewers followed instructions on the paper survey in order to skip inappropriate questions. Figure 3-1 illustrates the way in which skip patterns worked in the paper survey. Since CAI handles skip patterns from "behind the scenes," Figure 3-1 might also be viewed as showing what is invisible in CAI.
|7c. Could . . . have taken a job during those weeks if one had been offered?|| __ Yes Skip to 7e|
|7d. What was the main reason . . . could not take a job during those weeks? Mark (x) only one.||__ Already had a job|
__ Temporary illness
__ Other (Specify) _____
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