News Releases - 2013

Survey “Game Changers” Force Rethinking

    Release Date: 10/30/2013

    Is survey research as we know it becoming obsolete? Or, are the “game changers” providing new research opportunities?

    In a presentation to the New York Chapter of AAPOR, Abt SRBI Founding Partner Mark Schulman warned that major transformations -- methodological, marketplace and technological – are forcing researchers to rethink some of the profession's basic premises. He also emphasized that these trends may well open new doors for those who can exploit them.  

    In his October 16 presentation at Hunter Colege, Schulman examined recent changes and developments which survey researchers need to confront, including:

    • drop in response rates for telephone surveys, and its implications;
    • growth of cell-only households;
    • recognition that self-report studies have validity problems;
    • emergence of new technologies, such as smart phones and tablets, that are redefining and expanding what we can do and how we collect data;
    • continuing growth of non-survey based “big data,” aided by increasing use of administrative records and the ability of digital devices to capture behavior;
    • rise of Twitter, Facebook and other social networking sites which generate trillions of bits of data and provide capabilities to retrieve feedback from tens of millions of users in a few instants of time;
    • growth of new competitors unconstrained by our rules of professional engagement and practice;
    • The changing cost/benefit calculation by clients in the face of increasing tighter research budgets.

    Schulman focused specifically on the limitations of respondent verbal self-reports, particularly in health, transportation and diary surveys. He noted that the growth of digital devices, including smart phones, will allow researchers to capture data – even sensitive health-related data -- based on actual behavior.

    “Doctors can do an EKG using a smart phone app these days,” he noted. “The future will belong to those who can capture real behavior and measurement by harnessing technology. Technology is allowing us to re-scope and expand our conception of valid data collection.”

    He also noted that:

    • we have long ago reached the point where much more of the population is accessible through cell phones than by landline, raising questions about how long we should continue to dial landlines in our phone surveys;
    • shrinking budgets, both in the government and commercial research spheres, have pushed us to develop more efficient sample designs, particularly in pursuit of rare populations;
    • we need to continue to explore how find scientific merit in use of non-probability samples.
    Dr. Schulman is a Founding Partner of Abt SRBI. His work has spanned market and public policy research for government, the media, foundations, transportation agencies, major corporations, banks, and other financial institutions. He was 2002-2003 president of the American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR).