Once a questionnaire, sampling frame, and sampling methodologies and screeners are finalized, we can begin data collection for your survey. As with questionnaire design and sampling, the method used for collecting data is driven by your research goals and budget. Our project managers and interviewers are experienced in a variety of scientifically valid data collection techniques, including telephone interviews, mail surveys, web surveys, and in-person and depth interviews. We also assist organizations who wish to self-administer a survey. Some complex research studies require more than one data collection method; for example, a telephone survey for which some respondents are chosen to participate in a web survey or depth interview.
Many of our surveys are conducted by telephone, as this has proven to be a highly effective and cost-efficient method of reaching most populations. These surveys are administered using a computer-assisted telephone interviewing system (CATI). Currently, we use a CATI program called CASES, which was developed at the University of California, Berkley. Berkley was supported in the creation of CASES by cooperative agreements with the U.S. Bureau of the Census and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the program is used by these and other federal agencies in their ongoing data collection projects. The CASES software has been customized by our project and data managers to perform a variety of project management and reporting activities and is a powerful tool for the collection of survey data. The software's capabilities include online call monitoring and case management; automatic call scheduling; data coding, cleaning, and verification procedures; questionnaire debugging and tracing capabilities, and interviewer performance reporting.
Our project managers and field staff of approximately 50 interviewers have extensive experience conducting CATI surveys, and the progress and quality of completed surveys is closely monitored by our call center supervisors and project managers. All interviewers have had formal training related to interviewing procedures, reducing refusals, and administering questionnaires using the CATI system. The interviewer training course includes role-playing and feedback in addition to instruction on the technical methodology of interviewing. In addition, each interviewer is trained specifically on each new study's questionnaire, and will practice with the questionnaire in the training mode of the CATI system before beginning actual phone calls. Moreover, our monitoring protocol provides constant feedback to interviewers regarding their performance, and is itself used as an ongoing training opportunity. We also have the capability of conducting Spanish-language surveys; a number of our interviewers are bilingual, and can conduct interviews in either Spanish or English, depending on need.
Because some populations cannot be reached easily by telephone, we also conduct interviews in-person. Questionnaires for these interviews are similar to those used for telephone surveys, and are similarly tested before being used in the field. Usually, we conduct in-person interviews using a computer-assisted personal interviewing system, or CAPI, although depending on need, interviewers may use paper surveys, and enter the data later into the CAPI system. We use our most experienced interviewers for in-person interviews, and provide additional training specific to the requirements of these more personal encounters. Recent in-person surveys have included a survey of visitors to the Strasburg Railroad, research into pregnancy outcomes among the Amish population of Lancaster County, and crime and quality of life surveys conducted door-to-door in several Lancaster City neighborhoods.
Certain research projects require a more detailed and thorough exploration of issues and concerns than is possible in a short interview. In these cases, depth interviews-individual interviews conducted with a small number of participants, either in-person or on the phone-are a very effective way of eliciting comprehensive data and exploring respondents' experiences, perspectives, and expectations. During a depth-interview, we ask open-ended questions to elicit thoughtful responses, and engage respondents in discussion. Depth interviews are often used to provide context to other data, offering a more complete picture of the reasons for a previous study's outcomes. As with in-person interviews, we use our most experienced interviewers for depth interviews, and provide the necessary additional training. Recently, we have conducted depth interviews with the employees of a local hospital's outpatient center, to discuss how to improve the patient experience, and with donors to a large non-profit organization, to explore why they give, and how others might be persuaded to increase their philanthropy.
Web Surveys are becoming increasingly common, and can be a very low-cost, highly effective way to reach known populations. They are particularly valuable when the target population includes primarily internet users. We are able to conduct several different kinds of web surveys, always adhering to scientific methodology for both sampling and questionnaire design, so as to obtain valid and reliable results. Intercept surveys poll every nth visitor to a web site, and are particularly useful for customer satisfaction surveys; recently, we polled visitors to Franklin & Marshall's website to determine whether users found the new design attractive and were able to easily find the information they sought. Other surveys request respondents' participation via email. For example, we have found that employee satisfaction surveys have higher response rates when all employees are sent an email asking for their participation, and respondents can choose when to complete the survey. Web surveys are often combined with other surveys, such as a recent telephone survey asking respondents their opinions about a proposed new streetcar system in downtown Lancaster. Randomly chosen respondents to the telephone survey were asked to complete a second survey online, which showed pictures, maps, and other images and asked additional questions about preferences for streetcar routes and design.
Mail Surveys are often preferred for named surveys in which the sample population is known, such as employees or members of a professional organization, who may need flexibility in choosing when to complete the survey. These surveys are also relatively inexpensive, and can be helpful when many open-ended questions are asked. Generally, we perform multiple mailings for each survey, to increase response rates.
Sometimes, instead of mailing a survey, an organization may find that it is easier to reach its target population by handing out paper questionnaires. This is particularly true of small groups who need data on program effectiveness, or whose members do not necessarily have landline telephones or internet access. For example, each year we help Lancaster's Fulton Theatre evaluate its Youtheatre program. Each participant completes a questionnaire before beginning the program, and again after the program is over. Because theatre staff members hand out the questionnaires, they can ensure that all participants complete one.