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Collaborative Research: Responding to Surveys on Mobile, Multimodal Devices

a PSC Research Project

Investigators:   Frederick G. Conrad, Mick P. Couper

Increasingly people are communicating with one another through new media such as text messages exchanged via mobile devices. At the same time, survey response rates continue to drop. These phenomena are related to the extent that respondents only use mobile devices (21% of US households no longer have a landline phone) and frequently rely on modes other than voice, most notably text (which is certainly the norm among some subgroups in the US and increasingly among entire populations in other countries). Yet we know little about the impact of multimodal mobile devices on survey participation, completion, data quality and respondent satisfaction.

The proposed research will explore these issues in two experiments that will collect survey data on iPhones in four modes defined by whether the interviewing agent is a live human or a computer, and whether the medium of communication is voice or text. The resulting modes are telephone interviews, instant message (IM) interviews, speech integrated voice response (IVR), and automated IM. This way of defining modes enables us to isolate the effects of the agent and medium. The first experiment explores the effect of the four modes on participation, completion, data quality and satisfaction; the second explores the impact on the same four measures of allowing participants to choose the response mode.

Intellectual Merit. The experiments are designed to to answer questions such as:

How does the effort required to interact with a particular medium (e.g., more effort to enter text than to speak) affect respondents’ behavior and experience e.g., does texting lead respondents to pay less attention to the details of questions and to be less satisfied?

Will human interviewers elicit less candid answers to sensitive questions than computer-based interviewing agents in both voice and text? Might respondents interacting with a human interviewer via text be more honest because the visible record of their responses increases their sense of accountability as in other domains?

How does the physical environment interact with mode, e.g., might respondents’ performance suffer if they engage in an IM interview while walking or pushing a shopping cart, or a voice interview in a loud restaurant?

Will contacted sample members participate in greater numbers if allowed to select the response mode and will they be more conscientious?

Will respondents choose the mode that researchers would want them to, e.g., a computerized interviewing agent when the topic is sensitive, speech when glare interferes with reading a screen?

Broader Impacts. The proposed research will help fill serious gaps in at least two areas of the methodological literature, mixed mode surveys and mobile data collection, as well as the intersection of these areas, multimodal mobile surveys, for which there virtually no literature to guide the near certain development of these surveys in coming years.

Research Team. The project is proposed as collaborative research between the University of Michigan (Institute for Social Research) and the New School for Social Research, with industrial collaborators from AT&T Labs Research and AT&T Interactive Applied Research whose contributions are not charged against project funds. The team combines cognitive psychologists, psycholinguists, survey methodologists and computer scientists. The work will support one full time graduate student at both universities.

Funding Period: 10/01/2010 to 09/30/2014

Country of Focus: USA

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