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Reducing Respondent Contact Burden in the American Community Survey’s Computer Assisted Personal Interviewing Operation

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The U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS) uses a multimode data collection approach that attempts to contact selected households by mail, telephone calls and personal visits. Some respondents find the data collection strategy to be overly intrusive and are concerned with the number and type of contact attempts. So how should organizations ensure that they do not make too many contact attempts?

Traditionally, organizations collecting survey data from households measure respondent burden in terms of the frequency of a survey and with the time and number of respondents required to complete it. A broader definition of respondent burden includes the negative feelings experienced by survey participants due to the number of requests made to participate in the survey. In an effort to address respondent concerns, the Census Bureau is researching ways to reduce the number and type of attempts to contact a respondent.

In August 2015, the Census Bureau conducted a field pilot in the computer-assisted personal interviewing (CAPI) operation that employed a stopping rule based on a “cumulative burden score.” This rule assigned a numeric value to each contact attempt in any mode as a separate increment of burden. This rule was based on an assessment of the relative burden of the various contact attempts in order to estimate the perceived contact burden for the respondent. For example, we assigned personal visits more burden points than telephone calls, contacts more points than noncontacts, indications of reluctance by the respondent more points than a lack of reluctance by the respondent, etc. Once the cumulative burden score exceeded the established threshold , we stopped further attempts to contact the case.

We also researched whether showing the current cumulative burden score to field staff would influence their behavior. Therefore, we designed the pilot with different experimental treatments that would assist in making a recommendation on whether or not to show the score to field staff.

Based on the results observed during the pilot, implementation of the cumulative burden score stopping rule was effective at reducing some metrics of the perceived contact burden, with only a slight negative impact on response rates. This research did not observe significant differences between showing the cumulative burden score to the field representative and not showing the score. The Census Bureau is using the results from the pilot to prepare for deployment of the cumulative burden score stopping rule into production CAPI operations in mid-2016.

For more specific information, see the full report, Results of a Field Pilot to Reduce Respondent Contact Burden in the American Community Survey’s Computer Assisted Personal Interviewing Operation. We are also presenting our findings at the American Association for Public Opinion Research’s 71st annual conference in Austin, Texas, on May 12, 2016.

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