A Multi-Method Evaluation of the Use of an Event History Calendar
Joanne Pascale and Alice McGee
KEY WORDS: event history calendar, panel study, evaluation
The English Longitudinal Study of Aging (ELSA) is conducted every 2 years with persons 50 years old and older and covers a range of topics, including family structure, health and disability, economic circumstances and retirement. After two waves of data collection, the research team and the study’s sponsors were interested in capturing retrospective data on major life events over the respondent=s entire life cycle B such as changes in residence, marital status and employment B beginning at the respondent=s birth up to the present. In September, 2005, a pilot study was carried out to evaluate the use of an event history calendar (EHC) as a means of collecting these retrospective data.
In order to evaluate the EHC a number of methods were employed. First was a respondent debriefing. This was a set of questions administered to each respondent immediately after the interview and covered topics such as their general engagement with the EHC (i.e.: how much they looked at and followed along with the EHC as the interviewer filled it in), which Adomains@ or topic areas they chose to start with and why, whether they preferred to go forward or backward in time, the usefulness of landmarks in recall, and so on. The second evaluation method was an interviewer diary. This was a hard-copy list of questions that the interviewer filled in soon after conducting the interview, and covered some of the same topics as the respondent debriefing but from the interviewer=s perspective. Third, at the end of the field period interviewers were brought together for a general debriefing on their experience using the EHC. Finally, all pilot cases were tape recorded and Aquasi-transcripts@ were written. These were not word-for-word transcripts but rather running accounts of the interview flow, focusing on sections where changes and key dates in life events were reported. The purpose of the quasi-transcripts was to map the respondent=s Ajourney@ through the EHC to enable analysis of actual behaviors, such as switching across domains, going forward and backward in time, use of landmarks and so on.
This paper will present results from each of these evaluation sources to address some of the gaps in our current understanding of the EHC method. We examine two themes. First is the interviewers= and respondents= experiences with the EHC B whether they felt engaged with the calendar, how useful it seemed to be as a recall aid, how easy or difficult the interviewer found it to administer and so on. The other theme is landmarks and navigating through the EHC B that is, the extent to which landmarks came into play, who (interviewers or respondents) introduced them and why, and the effect of the landmarks. We also examined preferences and behavior regarding the sequencing of topic areas and the direction of reporting in time (past to present or vice versa).