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Exploiting Computer Automation to Improve the Interview Process and Increase Survey Cooperation

Jeffrey C. Moore

KEY WORDS: burden, conversational norms, efficiency, flow, nonresponse/attrition, questionnaire design, respondent-friendly


Couper (2002) outlines the "challenges and opportunities" of recent and still-emerging technological developments on the conduct of survey research. This paper focuses on one such development - the use of computer-assisted survey instruments in place of paper-and-pencil questionnaires - and it focuses on one particular opportunity which this development presents: the ability to improve efficiency, "flow," and naturalness, and in general make the interview experience a more pleasant one for all participants, while still controlling question wording and sequencing. Moral arguments can be raised in defense of such efforts: the potential for important practical benefits, including improved survey cooperation, lends more mundane but perhaps more potent support. Although the research literature is surprisingly scant, there is some evidence that improved instrument design can reduce nonresponse. A recent effort by the U.S. Census Bureau to redesign the core instrument for the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) offers additional support. Motivated in large measure by evidence of increasing unit nonresponse and attrition, the primary goal of the SIPP redesign effort was to improve the interview process, and in particular to seek ways to avoid violations of conversational norms (e.g., Grice, 1975). A great many of the SIPP interview process improvements would not have been feasible without the computerization of the survey instrument. This paper briefly summarizes many of the technology-based changes implemented in the SIPP instrument, and briefly describes a set of field experiments used to develop and refine the new procedures and to evaluate their success in achieving SIPP's redesign goals.


Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Statistical Research Division

Created: 10-AUG-2004

Source: U.S. Census Bureau | Statistical Research Division | (301) 763-3215 (or chad.eric.russell@census.gov) |   Last Revised: October 08, 2010